June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. It has never been easier or more important to know your HIV status. As a result of recent advances in HIV science we have the tools to end the AIDS epidemic in our communities. The question is no longer, "Can we end AIDS?" It’s, "Will we?"
This is a particularly important question for us as Black Americans. We account for nearly one out of every two new infections occurring in this country each year and more of us die of AIDS than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. For many of us, it is a personal issue. According to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a majority of Black Americans now know someone either who is living with HIV or who has died from the disease, most often a family member or close friend. And, the sad reality is many more of us likely know someone who is HIV positive, but because of the stigma may not be open about it, or even know themselves. Too many of us do not know our HIV status.
Today in most parts of the United States you can get an HIV test for free. Rapid oral HIV tests that don't involve blood or needles--just a swab on the inside of the mouth—and generally provide results in as fast as 20 minutes are available at many testing locations. You can even now take an HIV test in the privacy of your own home.
Treatments are also better than they’ve ever been. They're easier to take, more effective, less likely to become resistant, and have fewer side effects. As a result people with HIV who are on treatment are living longer and healthier lives than ever before.
What's more, new surveillance tools give us a much better idea of how many people are living with HIV, who is infected and what communities are most impacted--both demographically and geographically. With new mapping tools we can identify HIV hot spots down to the ZIP code or census tract.
There are also new discoveries happening that are helping us prevent the spread of HIV. For example, we now understand how medically treating a person infected with HIV can significantly reduce the chances of that person transmitting the virus to someone else. If we can get HIV-positive people into care early, put them on HIV-fighting medicine, and keep them on that treatment we can reduce their ability to transmit the virus to others by up to 96 percent. To quote a certain vice president, “That’s a big f**king deal."
So we have better surveillance, better treatment and better prevention. But the lynchpin of our ability to use these tools is getting people tested for HIV. And, that takes me back to where we started. We can end the AIDS epidemic, but we can’t do it if we are not successful in Black America. HIV continues to be a deadly disease in our community but it does not have to be.
We as Black Americans have the power to win this fight. And the answer begins with knowing your own HIV status, knowing the HIV status of your sexual partners and making sure that your family, friends and loved ones know theirs as well. This National HIV Testing Day, June 27, make yourself and your loved ones a priority. Get tested. I’ve been tested. Have you? Together we are 'Greater Than AIDS.'
Phill Wilson is the President and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, the only National HIV/AIDS think tank in the United States focused exclusively on Black people. He can be reached at PhillWilson@BlackAIDS.org.
HIV began one person at a time and it will end one person at a time. Join the Greater Than AIDS movement on Facebook. To find free and low cost testing near you, visit the official Greater Than AIDS website.