In recognition of National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), local residents are being encouraged to get tested and learn their status.
In observance, various agencies and health organizations across the city will promote HIV testing on Wednesday, June 27.
The massive push for testing comes at a time when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that of the more than 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS, nearly a quarter of a million do not know they are infected.
The annual observance to promote HIV testing was established in 1995 by the National Association of People With AIDS.
“We, as HIV-positive people are very proud that we take the lead in saying we want other people to get tested so they know their HIV status and we want to reduce HIV infections,” says Frank J. Oldham Jr., president and CEO of Washington, D.C.-based NAPWA.
“What we have learned is most people, when they know they are HIV-positive, will be careful, practice risk reduction, will disclosure their status and therefore help reduce the number of HIV infections. If you don’t know you have it, then how can you do that?” Oldham said.
Oldham says NAPWA has a set a goal to increase HIV testing across the U.S. by 10 percent within the next three years by working with its government and corporate partners such as OraSure Technologies and Gilead Sciences.
The association’s Mayor’s Campaign Against HIV urges mayors across the country to raise visibility around HIV testing by declaring June 27 as National HIV Testing Day in their cities.
As a part of NHTD, the Greater Than AIDS Campaign and Walgreens will be offering HIV testing at select locations in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington, D.C. and West Palm Beach.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) lives in human blood and other body fluids. The virus can be spread through unsafe sex and unsafe drug use.
There are various testing options including an oral swab, conventional blood tests and same day rapid screening. The tests are used to detect antibodies to HIV.
“HIV remains shrouded in myths and misconceptions and misinformation, and as a result, people may not feel they are really at risk,” says Gary Bell, executive director, Bebashi: Transition to Hope, a full-service HIV/AIDS case management agency.
“The message is if we can get people early in the disease, they can live for a very long time and perhaps even die from something other than HIV,” says Bell.
In commemoration of NHTD, Bebashi seeks to test 150 people during its testing event from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. 1217 Spring Garden Street. Power 99 Street Team will be on hand to engage the community.
“African Americans are late testers. We tend to find out we’re HIV positive when we may already have full-blown AIDS. So the earlier we get tested, the better the outcomes.”
The virus continues to disproportionately strike African Americans — particular African-American women.
“HIV is still the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 25 to 34 and that’s unconscionable — and part of it is people not taking the test and knowing their status,” Oldham stated.
Bell noted that many look at how well Magic Johnson is faring and are under the misbelief that he has been cured of HIV — or that he looks that good because he can afford the meds.
“The reason he looks the way he does is because, number one, he found out early and he’s taking his meds consistently,” says Bell.
Bell says Philadelphia’s rates of HIV infections are five times that of the national average, and about 60 percent of the people living in the city with HIV are African Americans.
“What African Americans are facing is that we tend to live in areas of the city that have higher incidents of HIV. So we can say that community has a higher viral load and you’re more likely to interact with someone who has HIV in a community with a higher viral load,” Bell says.
For information about other local testing locations, visit www.hivtest.org.