June 27 is the 17th National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), which is organized annually by the National Association of People with AIDS * (NAPWA), with support from CDC and AIDS.gov. Testing is critical as one in five people with HIV in the United States (or 200,000 people) don’t know they have HIV. The NHTD theme, “Take the Test, Take Control,” is a simple yet salient message that asks us to take two actions – get tested for HIV and protect our health and the people we love.
When I was working in San Francisco in the early days of the epidemic, I saw the devastating toll this disease was taking. Now, nearly 30 years into this epidemic, the simplicity of this message shows how far we have come. Two critical, effective steps in prevention – testing and treatment – are now available to combat what was once an almost universal death sentence to so many.
Despite many prevention and treatment successes, HIV is still a serious infection. About 56,000 individuals in the United States become infected with HIV each year. In 2007, the most recent year for which we have data on deaths of persons with a diagnosis of AIDS, almost 18,000 persons with AIDS died. More than a million individuals are living with the disease. We are holding back the tide of new infections; however, we have yet to change it. But we can.
As a nation, it is time to determine the direction we will take in fighting this serious – yet preventable – disease. One direction leads to complacency and the injustice of an HIV epidemic that affects the most vulnerable of Americans. The other turns toward a re-energized, science-driven effort to reduce the spread of HIV. Public health and our national conscience require we make the right choice. For National HIV Testing Day, let’s make the right choice and take action.
Take the Test – This is one of the first steps in HIV prevention and a critical one to ensure everyone infected with HIV is diagnosed, connected to medical care and support, and supported to help protect their health and that of their sexual partners. CDC recommends that all individuals between ages 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once as part of routine medical care. Gay and bisexual men and others at increased risk—including those with multiple or HIV-infected partners and injection drug users—should be tested at least annually, some at especially high-risk more frequently.
Take Control – Protect your health. Take the HIV test, determine your status, and protect yourself and your loved ones. When someone finds out they are infected, they are more likely to take steps to protect others from HIV. Those unaware of infection account for the majority (54-70%) of new, sexually transmitted HIV infections in the United States.
For all of us and especially those of us working in HIV prevention, we must continue to encourage all Americans to get tested, conduct targeted efforts to increase testing among those at greatest risk, be aware of and address the many socioeconomic and cultural factors that contribute to HIV disparities in access and use of testing, treatment, and prevention services. Also, we must ensure awareness and knowledge carries on to each generation so that we can finally change the direction of this epidemic.
I urge you to take the test and encourage everyone you care about to also get tested – talk, Tweet, and Facebook post about it; engage and utilize the national campaigns (e.g., Act Against AIDS , Greater than AIDS , GYT ); and get involved in local activities in your area – go to the NHTD Events Map to find an event near you.
Let’s be reminded of the reality of HIV and AIDS today and take another step to reduce the toll of this epidemic. I look forward to learning about the many NHTD events planned and the successes achieved. Thank you.