In order to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, June 27 was the 17th annual National HIV Testing Day (NHTD).
Started in 1995 by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), the 2011 NHTD not only encourages people to get tested but also brings awareness to two other important dates in the history of HIV/AIDS: the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS on June 5 and the first anniversary of the National HIV/AIDS strategy released by the White House Office of National AIDS policy.
Kevin Fenton, the director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention (NCHHSTP) Office of Planning and Policy, issued a statement about the feelings of NCHHSTP for the annual awareness day. In the statement, he strongly encouraged people to get tested for HIV and said that “whether you test positive or negative, simply knowing your HIV status is empowering.”
Fenton said he encouraged people to get tested in order to be proactive about protecting themselves and others.
“Testing negative can give you peace of mind and encourage you to take steps to keep yourself HIV-free,” Fenton said. “And while (it is) certainly a difficult diagnosis to receive, learning that you have HIV can lead you to seek treatment that can save your life and access to the knowledge you need to protect the lives of others.”
Fenton also said many people don’t even know they are HIV positive.
“Two hundred and forty thousand people in the United States are living with this potentially deadly virus and don’t know that they are infected,” Fenton said. The majority of the estimated 56,000 new HIV infections are caused by those who were unaware of their infected status. Nearly 17,000 people with AIDS die every year in the United States, he said.
Ian Sanderson, a graphic communication senior, recently got tested in support of National HIV Testing Day. He said college students should get tested if they are sexually active.
“Even though AIDS isn’t as much of an epidemic as it was in the ’80s, I think with all of the advancements and attention it has gotten makes it our responsibility to get tested whether we are gay or straight,” Sanderson said.
According to a fact sheet released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the first known AIDS cases were printed in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. With advances in treatment as well as increased awareness and access to HIV testing, 350,000 infections have been prevented and the transmission rate has declined approximately 89 percent since the 1980s.
However, the fact sheet also stated that if “the impact of prevention efforts (do not increase), projections indicate that the continued growth in the number of people living with HIV/AIDS will lead to more infections.”
In 2006 approximately 53 percent of those newly infected with HIV in the United States were homosexual men, 31 percent were heterosexual men and women, 12 percent were those who injected drugs and 4 percent were homosexual men who injected drugs. Approximately 46 percent of blacks live with HIV every year, and black men are six times more likely to get infected than white men. Black women are also 15 times more likely to get infected than white women, according to the fact sheet.
Kathleen Karle, the health promotion manager of the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department, said with funding cuts to HIV/AIDS healthcare, the Public Health Department was unable to do anything significant for National HIV Testing Day.
Michelle Franco, the center director of Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties, said Planned Parenthood also does not do anything monumental besides putting up flyers in their facility reminding people to get tested and utilize its services.
“Every day Planned Parenthood provides a range of reproductive health care services including rapid HIV testing which allows patients to receive their results within 10 minutes,” she said.
The National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), which was introduced by President Barack Obama in 2010, aims to provide more services, education and treatments on a more aggressive level. Fenton said in his statement he hoped more advancements toward AIDS prevention would be achieved.
“While the recent good news indicates that we are making significant strides in expanding access to HIV testing for all Americans, there is more work to be done,” Fenton said. “Do your part today. Talk to your doctor or health care provider about HIV, get tested and get the knowledge you need to stay healthy.”
Those seeking HIV/AIDS testing in San Luis Obispo can go to HealthWorks of the Central Coast on East Foothill Boulevard, Planned Parenthood on Pismo Street, Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County on Grand Avenue and the AIDS Support Network of San Luis Obispo County on Nipomo Street. The AIDS Support Network also offers resources to those suffering from the disease. Cal Poly has its own Coordinating Committee on AIDS/HIV (CCAH), which offers support.