The 21st International AIDS Conference starts in a few weeks in Durban, South Africa. Perhaps the greatest achievement in the long fight against HIV/AIDS is that it's no longer a death sentence. Instead, AIDS can be a chronic, manageable disease, if people receive treatment.
Testing is the first step toward that goal. It is as simple as swabbing the inside of the mouth or getting a finger prick. In the latter, the blood is then put on a test stick that shows results within minutes. One line is negative; two lines, positive.
VOA went to Nova Salud, an organization whose mission is to reduce the risk of HIV/AIDS and common sexually transmitted diseases, or STD's. A man who identified himself only as "Rigo" said he encourages all Latinos to get tested because, "You don't know the past of your partners, and you can be living with the (HIV) virus and you don't know it."
He was followed by a woman with a toddler named Zoey. Zoey's mother said she gets tested because she has children and has to know her status because of her family.
HIV is both treatable and preventable. People who have the virus can live normal lives, as long as they stay on treatment, and, those at risk of getting HIV can go on treatment to keep themselves from getting it. In most parts of the U.S., HIV/AIDS is declining, according to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who spoke to VOA by Skype.
"We've seen huge decreases in heterosexual transmission -- more than two-thirds - 80 percent reductions, generally. We’ve seen the huge decreases in injection drug use as a cause of transmission, but among young men who have sex with men, we’ve seen increases in HIV infections."
The groups in the U.S. that are most at risk are Hispanics and African-Americans, especially men between the ages of 24 and 35.
Rodney McCoy, at Nova Salud, says he sees that in his work in these communities. "When we look at who progresses from HIV on to AIDS, again blacks and Latinos are most at risk for that." Still, progress has been made among these groups, too.
In the latest study from the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, death from HIV ranks sixth among black men ages 25 to 34, and seventh among Asian/Pacific Islander men and Hispanic men of the same age group. HIV does not rank in the top ten leading causes of death for white men ages 25 to 34.
In his Skype interview, Frieden said, "We're going to have to try more intensive approaches including testing...and some use of treatment of PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis for high-risk individuals."
Pre-exposure prophylaxis means putting those at high risk of getting the disease on treatment, because it's been shown to keep them virtually HIV-free.
Nova Salud works with African-American and Hispanic communities in the metro-Washington area on health issues involving HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs.
But, sometimes it hard to get people tested because of the stigma. McCoy says they take a different approach at Nova Salud. "The first thing we do is we acknowledge that there is stigma."
And, he says, there's a way to normalize HIV testing and that's during routine medical checkups.
If you go to the doctor to get your blood work for cholesterol, for high blood pressure, why not start including HIV and STDs?
The goal everywhere is to get to the point where 90 percent of those with HIV know it, and that 90 percent of those who are positive get treatment and, finally, that 90 percent of those in treatment the virus in their blood to un-detectable levels. The theory is that this will end the AIDS epidemic as a global public health threat by 2030.