National HIV Testing Day 2012: Advocates Stress Benefits of Knowing
Day of awareness is crucial to slowing down spread amongst younger generation
The idea behind National HIV Testing Day isn’t that everyone run out on their lunch break and get tested.
(Of course, no one in the HIV prevention and treatment community would complain if that did happen.)
Chances are good that the most at risk populations – young, lower income minorities – don’t enjoy the luxury of a lunch break long enough to “drop in.”
But that excuse isn’t flying with HIV prevention professionals, who will be on hand Wednesday to offer free tests and counseling at community centers and clinics around the country.
Of the estimated 33 million people living with HIV worldwide, less than 20 percent of them know they are infected. Those that do know their status are likelier to seek the appropriate amount of care and support, prevention advocates say.
“Testing really is the starting point of letting people live healthier lives,” says Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the Centers for Disease Control. “The latest generation of tests detect the presence of the virus at the time (those already infected) are most likely to be infectious.”
In other words, early detection is paramount in populations that might otherwise take a test dangerously close to a full-blown AIDS diagnosis.
With the prevalence of HIV among African American men and women much higher than previously believed, advocates are stressing the need for more frequent testing and for a wider range of testing options.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that you can’t get treated for HIV if you don’t know that you have it,” said Phill Wilson, president of the Black AIDS Institute. “It has never been easier.”
The CDC on Tuesday announced plans to make home testing kits available at pharmacies and retail stores nationwide.
Until then, advocates and health professionals want anyone without current knowledge of their status to take advantage of a free test today and any day tests are offered.
"Anybody can get HIV whether you're young or old, gay, straight black or white,” said Aletha Mayband, assistant commissioner of the New York City Health Department. “It is especially important for the African American and Latino communities to get tested since eight out of 10 new HIV cases occur among blacks and Latinos.”
In New York, Young Professionals United For Change will help host “Love and Politics II,” a free testing event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET in front of the Adam Clayton Powell building in Harlem.
YP4C founder Brian Benjamin is stressing the importance of testing even among those who presume themselves to be less at risk.
"Our degrees, jobs, titles or money don't protect us" from HIV, Benjamin said. “That's why it's important for all of us to know our status. It is not just a disease for gay folks and drug users."