Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that we will be expanding our successful HIV testing initiative by $31.5 million, for another three years. The new total program funding will be approximately $142.5 million over the next three years. This will reach more people with life-saving information on whether or not they are infected with the virus. Since the testing initiative began in 2007, more than 1.4 million Americans have been tested for HIV through this program and more than 10,000 people with HIV have been newly diagnosed. The vast majority of these people were linked to care.
We know that getting people tested and diagnosed is an important step in reducing new HIV infections. Testing is the first step in linking HIV-infected people to medical care, ongoing support, and prevention efforts to help them establish and maintain safer behaviors. In fact, studies show that once people learn they are infected with HIV, most take steps to protect their partners.
However, far too many people in the U.S. are infected with HIV but unaware of their status. More than 200,000 people — or one out of every five people living with HIV in this country — may be unknowingly transmitting the virus to their partners. Additionally, many people are diagnosed with HIV late in the course of infection, when treatment and prevention efforts cannot be maximized.
The first three years of the initiative primarily focused on increasing testing and knowledge of HIV status among African American men and women. These groups bear an extremely disproportionate impact of HIV. The new three-year effort will reach even more populations at-risk for HIV, including gay and bisexual men of all races, Latinos, and injection drug users. Thirty jurisdictions are eligible to apply for the new funding (an increase from 25 areas in the last cycle of funding), which represent the areas with the most severe HIV epidemics among these populations. The first year of the expanded program will begin in September 2010.
CDC is committed to ensuring that more Americans are tested for HIV, and where necessary, linked to appropriate care. This is critical among those vulnerable populations that need it the most—including those who don’t have regular contact with the health care system. CDC has long been the nation’s leader in supporting testing efforts as a part of HIV prevention. In 2006, we issued new recommendations to make HIV testing routine for all Americans, regardless of one’s risk for the virus. Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check. The testing initiative has helped to make those recommendations a reality in many health care settings, where opportunities to screen patients for HIV are often missed. This program represents just one example of the ways that we can help state and local health care providers make testing routine and to identify more people who are infected but unaware of their status—and ultimately reduce the ongoing and unacceptable toll of HIV on this nation.
More information is available about the funding announcement on CDC’s website. To learn more about HIV and AIDS and find out where you can receive a confidential HIV test, visit www.hivtest.org, call 800-CDC-INFO, or text your ZIP code to “Know It” (566948).
Kevin Fenton, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP)