Author: Francisco Ruiz, Team Lead, CDC Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention National Partnerships Team
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people continue to be at risk for HIV. We have made great strides in HIV prevention, yet about 1 in 7 (14 percent) of an estimated 1.2 million people with HIV in America don’t know they have HIV. We must continue to work together to provide critical HIV prevention services like testing.
Saturday, June 27, is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), and counties play a vital role in connecting people to HIV testing and ultimately reducing new HIV infections in the U.S.
Through its Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative, the CDC’s goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 90 percent by 2030. EHE focuses on 50 local areas that account for more than half of new HIV diagnoses (48 counties; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Washington, D.C.), and seven states with a substantial rural burden.
On this National HIV Testing Day, let’s reflect on the importance of HIV testing to sustain momentum to drive down HIV infections. To achieve the goals of the EHE initiative, we must make sure that useful tools, like HIV testing, reach the communities and populations most affected by HIV. East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, and similar counties that receive EHE initiative funding, have innovative efforts underway to expand HIV diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
Public health departments and community-based organizations routinely provide HIV testing, treatment, and prevention services. Right now, there are more challenges to offering face-to-face services because of COVID-19. This is why CDC encourages health departments and community-based organizations to explore ways to expand their support for HIV self-testing services. Increasing the availability of HIV self-tests may provide a very important service this time.
The 2020 NHTD theme is the power of “Knowing.” This theme highlights the many ways to stay in the know about HIV testing, while also promoting options related to knowing your HIV risk, prevention options, and treatment options.
Encouraging people to know their HIV status can empower them to take charge of their health. If the person tests positive, the sooner they know their HIV status, the faster they can access treatment services and potentially get to an undetectable viral load. Having and keeping an undetectable viral load is one of the best things a person with HIV can do to stay healthy. It also means the person with HIV has effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to HIV-negative partners.
If a person tests negative, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a key option to consider. The Ready, Set, PrEP program makes PrEP medication available at no cost for people who do not have prescription drug coverage.
National HIV Testing Day also is an opportunity to stop HIV stigma—use of certain words and language can have a negative effect for people at risk for or with HIV. When we support people with HIV, we make it easier for them to lead healthy lives. We all have a role to play in stopping HIV stigma.