Despite many continuing challenges, this is a time of exciting progress and hope in the fight against HIV/AIDS. A record number of Americans living with HIV know their HIV status. According to recently released data, nearly 82 percent of the more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States are aware of their infection. Knowing your HIV status is a critical first step to getting life-saving treatment and care. Importantly, people who know they have HIV are much less likely to spread their infection to others.
However, we still face considerable challenges—18 percent of Americans with HIV don’t know they are infected. That’s more than 200,000 people. To achieve the goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, we must ensure that people get tested and that those who are HIV-positive are linked to timely and effective care.
To do this, it is imperative that we increase the number of people who are routinely tested for HIV in health care settings, and also make it easier for people to get tested in community settings.
I’d like to highlight just one example of what we’re doing to make it easier for people to get tested for HIV. For the 2012 observance of National HIV Testing Day, June 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced a new pilot project to train pharmacists and retail store clinic staff at 12 rural and 12 urban sites to provide voluntary, confidential, rapid HIV testing. The goal is to extend HIV testing and counseling and make it much more easily accessible in the communities where people live.
The result of this two-year initiative will be a model of HIV testing availability in pharmacies and retail clinics across the United States. Lessons learned from the project will be incorporated into a comprehensive toolkit that pharmacists and retail clinic staff can use to expand HIV testing nationwide.
Expanding testing access beyond traditional venues will increase the number of people who know their HIV status and help people with HIV get the medical treatment and care they need to live longer and healthier lives. If HIV testing were readily available at all pharmacies throughout our nation, millions of Americans who enter these stores and clinics every week would have ready access to testing services that not only can save their lives, but also help prevent further spread of the virus.
Currently, one third of people with HIV are diagnosed so long after they acquire their infection that they develop AIDS within one year. These individuals will be sicker, die sooner, and have infected more of their partners than they would have if they had been tested earlier.
Ensuring that people infected with HIV enter into treatment and care is critical to help stop the spread of HIV in the United States. Antiretroviral therapy, or ART, can reduce the level of virus in the body dramatically. ART treatment helps people with HIV live longer, and lowers the chances that they will pass HIV on to others. Treatment also decreases the number of people with HIV who progress to AIDS. More than 16,000 people in the U.S. with AIDS die each year – a number that is unacceptably high.
HIV testing and treatment save lives. We must promote HIV testing and prevent new HIV infections every day of the year, not just today, National HIV Testing Day. To accomplish this, we must follow the roadmap detailed in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. It focuses the efforts of all stakeholders, including the federal government, in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy helps us define the success of HIV testing efforts—such as the pharmacy pilot project—that will reduce infections, increase awareness of HIV status, and improve health outcomes through treatment.
To locate an HIV testing site near you, text your Zip Code to “KNOWIT” (566948), visit www.HIVtest.org, or call 800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636). To find local HIV resources, including testing, housing, substance abuse treatment, mental health services, and family planning, visit the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Services Provider Locator tool.