[TALK LIKE SEX]<br />
Keri Hilson Says âGet Tested!â<br />

First observed in 1995, National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) promotes HIV testing and encourages people to learn their HIV status. According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 20% of all people living with HIV are unaware they have the virus, are not getting adequate medical care, and may be unknowingly exposing others to it. Among African-Americans, rates of HIV are alarming, with African-Americans being the racial/ethnic group most affected by the virus.

I had a dynamic conversation with award-winning singer-songwriter Keri Hilson and medical doctor and sexologist Dr. Rachel Ross about the importance of NHTD, and how OraQuick—the new, FDA-approved at-home HIV test—might help change the way we think of and approach HIV testing.

EBONY: Keri, how did you get involved with HIV testing awareness?

Keri Hilson: I’m always looking to lend my voice for charities I feel strongly about. I’ve done quite a few things with many different charities that support awareness and prevention. Robi Reed asked me to be an ambassador for the Reed for Hope organization. She sees me as a voice for young girls, someone they look up to and respect. I live a healthy life and she saw me on Twitter talking about health. When she asked, I immediately said “I’m in,” because I know HIV hits our community so hard. Alarmingly, it is the number one killer, especially for African-American women. And me being an African-American woman, I feel so responsible for getting this out there.

EBONY: For African-American women ages 16-34, it is the number one cause of death. This is also the primary pop culture target audience. What, if any, responsibility do artists in pop culture have when it comes to addressing this issue?

KH: I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself. I feel a huge social responsibility, especially now. Kids are having sex a lot earlier. They’re trying and experimenting with things a lot earlier. I just want to make sure that if you’re going to do it, you do it safely. Take care of your body.

EBONY: Dr. Rachel, let’s talk about why it’s important, particularly in the African-American community, that we do get tested. You’re coming from Gary, Indiana, and I’m sure you’re hearing a lot of concerns about getting tested, or people are just scared, or maybe they don’t see the value of it. What can we do to increase awareness about HIV testing in our community?

They might decide, ‘Hey, I’m not going to make it to the doctor any time soon, I just don’t have time to. I just heard Keri Hilson talking about it, why don’t I just pick it up and read it and try it?’

Dr. Rachel Ross: A big thing that we face in our community is denial. We’re in denial that what we’re eating isn’t right and we’re in denial that these sexual activities [put us] at risk. A recent survey asked people, “Are you at risk for HIV?” About 70% or so said, “No, I’m not at risk.” But when you really look at what’s considered “at risk,” they were, in fact, at risk. So I think we’re in denial about our sexual behaviors. It’s cultural.

I think when it comes to HIV testing, there’s the denial thing, but there’s also the lack of education and access to resources. Even though OraQuick has been out since October, I’m surprised by how many people don’t know you can take the test at home. Access to care is another big thing in our community, across the board with all health care, like diabetes and heart disease. There’s all these barriers in our lives that keep us from focusing on ourselves. And then there’s stigma. Even though so many of us have it, I think there’s still this denial and [people think] “Well, I don’t know anyone who has it.” The problem is, you don’t know anyone who looks like they have it. And if nobody looks like they have it, you think nobody has it. Until it becomes a little more discussed, I think we’re still going to be in denial as a culture. We need to get out of the dark about it and start discussing it.

EBONY: How do we do that? There’s been a slight decrease in contraction rates among Black women, but we’re seeing increases now among young Black men. How do we get people to go and get tested? How does OraQuick play into this?

KH: I think it speaks to the fact that it’s become so much easier, and it’s the awareness, like Dr. Rachel said. People in denial can be made aware by people like myself and Dr. Rachel, Dr. Robbie Reed, and other celebrities and athletes, entertainers in general, making people, especially the youth, aware. If they don’t know, they won’t do anything about it.

EBONY: Dr. Rachel, you brought up the issue of access. I went to my local drug store and saw they had OraQuick there and I also saw the cost of it. I know some people are going to feel that $40 is