Do you know your HIV status? On June 27, the nation will observe the 19th annual National HIV Testing Day. This year’s theme is “Take the Test. Take Control.”
HIV testing is so important because it gives you the information you need to make good decisions about your health. If you test negative, you can take steps to stay that way (which may include periodic testing if you engage in high-risk behaviors). If you have HIV, there are medications that will help you stay healthy and live longer. These medications—known as antiretroviral therapy (ART)—also make it significantly less likely that you might pass the virus to someone else.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already expanded access to free HIV screening for many people. For those living with HIV/AIDS, the healthcare law will help to ensure they get the care and treatment they need. That is good news, and the ACA has more in store. On January 1, 2014, many of the ACA’s most important provisions will begin increasing access to healthcare for millions of Americans, including those living with HIV/AIDS. To prepare, as of October 1, 2013, people can begin enrolling in ACA-mandated Health Insurance Marketplaces to find affordable health insurance.
Since the mid-1990s, the number of people who are diagnosed with HIV each year has remained relatively stable at about 50,000 infections per year. Certain groups, including African Americans, Latinos, and gay and bisexual men of all races/ethnicities, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. We are particularly concerned by a significant increase in new infections among young gay and bisexual men. Between 2008-2010, this group of young men (ages 13-24) had a 22 percent increase in new infections—and young black men in that group now account for more new HIV infections than any other subgroup by race/ethnicity, age, and sex. That news is deeply troubling.
Fortunately our latest data also show there is some good news. Between 2008 and 2010, new HIV infections among African American women declined by 21 percent. This is an encouraging decrease in new infections among black women; however, we will need more time to see if this noteworthy trend continues. In the meantime, we will continue working to eliminate the health disparities that affect racial/ethnic and other minorities and increase their risk for HIV infection.
It is important to stress the long-term benefits of HIV testing, care, and treatment. HIV testing gives us an opportunity to connect people living with HIV to treatment and give them the support they need to remain in care and to take their medications appropriately. Currently, nearly three out of every four people living with HIV in the U.S. do not successfully navigate the stages of care (also known as the “treatment cascade”), which are: HIV testing and diagnosis; actively linking those who test positive to care; retaining them in care over time; providing ART; and achieving “viral suppression” by using treatment to keep HIV at a level that helps individuals stay healthy and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to others. Identifying and reducing the obstacles along that path are the keys to achieving the goals of the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy and a major focus of our work.
So, in observance of National HIV Testing Day, I hope you will “Take the Test and Take Control.”