Here in the United States, Friday, 6/27, is National HIV Testing Day. It’s an effort to encourage Americans to learn whether they are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, knowledge that could save their lives.
The National Association of People with HIV/AIDS is the driving force behind National HIV Testing Day. Terje (Terry) Anderson is the group’s executive director.
He says, "It’s a campaign that we’ve been running for nine years now to encourage people who haven’t been tested to take the test and learn their HIV status. We started it because we were concerned about the large number of people in the United States who are HIV positive but had no idea. And we decided that the best way was to deliver a national message to people that testing is good. That knowing your status is something that you can deal with, that knowledge is power."
Mr. Anderson says it’s impossible to know the exact number of people in the United States who are not aware they are infected. But he says the US Centers for Disease Control estimates the number to be as high as 250-thousand.
He says despite treatments and awareness campaigns, the number of HIV infections in the United States continues to rise.
He says, "We estimate right now that there’s a total of about 900-thousand to a million people who are living with HIV. Each year there’s probably about 40-thousand new infections. Now, not all of those people get tested. So, each year our understanding is there’s about 20 to 25, maybe 30-thousand people who get tested each year and learn their status."
Whether in the United States or sub-Saharan Africa, stigma and discrimination are major reasons why many people refuse to be tested.
"You know, stigma and discrimination exist here in the United States as well as in Africa. And traveling in both places I see the same phenomena. What we’ve tried to do is to create an environment where people have control over their own testing. They get to make the decisions about being tested. It should always be voluntary and they get to decide who they tell the information to. Nobody should have their status disclosed by somebody else. It should always be up to them to disclose it," he says.
The head of the National Association of People with HIV/AIDS says knowing one’s HIV status helps a person take control of his or her life.
He says, "I’m a person living with AIDS. I talk from my personal experience. Whether you get tested or not doesn’t change your status. It doesn’t change whether you have HIV. It only changes whether you know about it or not. And if you know about it, you have the potential to do something about it. If you don’t know about it, there’s nothing you can do. The slogan we use for our campaign every year is: Take the Test, Take Control."
Mr. Anderson admits some people have become complacent about HIV/AIDS in the United States because treatments are available. But he says not everyone has access to those treatments and warns there is no cure or vaccine. He says every year about 10-thousand people die from HIV/AIDS.