Today is National HIV Testing Day. It is a day set aside for AIDS Service Organizations to push the public to get tested for HIV. Release the stigma and get tested for a change. A campaign such as this one has a suitable amount of hype set around it. But hype eventually fades and reality will assuredly set back in. According to the CDC, only 39.5 percent of Americans over the age of 18 have ever been tested for HIV in their lives. That's a low number for a huge epidemic. The latest epidemiology report shows that DC has had a remarkable increase in the number of people tested from 42,000 in 2006 to 110,000 in 2010. However, getting people tested is no walk or festival in the park. There are four possible reasons why the number of people tested today alone will not hit record highs (although that is certainly the goal).
1. It is hard to face past transgressions. HIV is primarily transmitted through sexual contact. Now if everyone only had sex with their spouse or significant other in a faithful relationship there would be little need to worry. However, the truth is that people have all kinds of sex. People lie and cheat on each other in relationships. And they do it sometimes without using protection. Having an HIV test brings back the memories (and excessive shame) of all the encounters that left doubt in someone's mind. Do not let the past interfere with making sound decisions about your sexual health. Let go of the shame and get tested.
2. The "that's on them" syndrome. Sadly, people still believe that HIV is a white, gay male's disease. While it is true that in DC at the end of 2009 38.8 percent of HIV infections happened through homosexual contact, 27.2 percent of the transmissions were through heterosexual contact. Let's not forget the 16.4 percent of transmissions that happened through intraveneuos drug use. These numbers clearly explain that HIV can happen to anyone regardless of sexual orientation. Stop blaming one subgroup for this epidemic and get tested.
3. What about my sex life? Ok. This one is not so easy. The stigma attached to this disease has people so locked up in fear that they cannot (really ... just cannot) share their status with their potential lover. There is so much misinformation out there regarding HIV that it's hard to find people who truly understand how the disease works and how it is transmitted. The best that anyone can do if they find out that they must live with an HIV positive diagnosis is to be honest right from the start. They must be patient and make sure that the person they choose to be intimate with is mature and educated enough to handle their status. Stand up to stigma and get tested.
4. I'm gonna be sick all the time and have to take medications forever. Not all HIV is the same. Some people do become very ill when diagnosed and struggle to recover. But keep in mind that they may have been diagnosed late and did not have the benefit of antiretroviral therapy to help them get along better. Care and treatment in DC has never been better. People are put into care at a much swifter pace when diagnosed and there is no waiting list for AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) if someone needs medications. The earlier the virus is caught, the better. Avoid jumping to conclusions and get tested.
Heard enough? Good. Now here are some places you can go around town to get tested for HIV today.
- The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has a site that will lead you to a testing site when you enter your zip code. Click here for more details.
- Whitman-Walker Health will have testing at the Max Robinson (2301 Martin Luther King Ave, SE) from 9 am-4 pm and extended hours at the Elizabeth Taylor Center (1701 14th st. NW) 9 am-7 pm
- National Council of Negro Women will have testing outside of their headquarters (633 Pennsylvania Avenue -- on Green/Yellow Metro lines) from 10 am-3 pm.
Get over yourself and those lousy excuses. Get tested.
Send Candace an e-mail.