Take the Test, Take Control: National HIV Testing Day, June 27One in six people living with HIV do not know that they are infected. Youth between the ages of 13-24 account for a fourth of all new HIV cases and gay and bisexual men are disproportionately represented in all cases, according to AIDS.gov. On June 27, communities across the nation are encouraging people of all ages and sexual orientations to participate in National HIV Testing Day.

First celebrated in 1995, this year’s National HIV Testing Day will mark the 19th year supporters of HIV awareness have banded together to help people get tested. Large and small nonprofits, federal agencies, local clinics and community groups are offering rapid HIV testing or pointing the way to the nearest testing sites. The motto for today’s observance is “Take the Test, Take Control,” to remind everyone to take charge of their health.

Importance of testing

Unlike early HIV tests, rapid test results can become available within 20 minutes, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and many tests are free.

“It’s critical to test for HIV as early as possible to get full treatment benefits and to have the knowledge needed to protect others,” said Cynthia Crick, health communications specialist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC reports that there are more than 400 testing events taking place as part of National HIV Testing Day.

“The only person who can ensure that you know your status is you,” said Meghan Davies, director of community health at Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, D.C., a service provider that caters especially to the needs of the LGBT community and promotes HIV/AIDS prevention.

As part of today’s observance, Whitman-Walker Health is offering testing in the nation’s capital. They are partnering with Greater than AIDS, a nationwide public information organization, to provide free testing. Select Walgreens across the country are also offering free testing as a part of their continued support of HIV/AIDS awareness.

Leading health advocates such as APHA and several Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative partners are helping promote National HIV Testing Day. Crick says organizations like these can help spread HIV awareness by pushing for the provision of equitable HIV/AIDS care. 

Benefits of the Affordable Care Act

The implementation of the Affordable Care Act has positively benefitted many health agencies that provide HIV/AIDS care, including Whitman-Walker Health.

“The main aspects of the new law that have benefited our HIV-positive patients are: (1) no one can be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition; (2) all new insurance policies have to provide minimum essential benefits; and (3) the implementation of Medicaid expansion,” Davies said.

“CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care,” CDC’s Crick said. “In 2009, 82.9 million adults reported having ever been tested for HIV, an increase of 11.4 million since 2006.”

While the number of those getting tested continues to improve, the numbers of those with positive results have not increased in the areas served by Whitman-Walker. However, Davies said, “there are still many people who do not know their HIV status, so we continue to do rapid testing as much as we can and we work to normalize the process so people will feel more comfortable getting tested and knowing their status.”