This June 27 is the 23rd annual National HIV Testing Day. The 2018 theme is "Doing It My Way, Testing for HIV." Currently, 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV/AIDS. An estimated 15 percent of people infected don't know it because they have never been tested. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of being tested.
Studies show that if an HIV positive person starts antiretroviral therapy soon after diagnosis, their long-term prognosis improves significantly. People who take medications as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral level have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to an HIV-negative partner.
HIV testing is crucial in South Florida. Despite gains in treating HIV over the last two decades, new infections continue to be a challenge. In 2016, Miami topped the list of highest new infection rate per capita of any U.S. city: 47 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's more than twice as many as San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York City. Fort Lauderdale also made the list of top 10 U.S. cities for the rate of new HIV diagnoses.
In Florida, more HIV infections progress to AIDS here than in any other state, in part because many HIV positive people who start taking antiretroviral drugs don't continue with their treatment.
National HIV Testing Day is also an opportunity for health care and other community agencies to unite and raise awareness about the impact of HIV testing and early diagnosis of HIV. Walgreens is partnering with the Florida Department of Health in Broward County, Pride Center Equality Park, Care Resource, Latinos Salud, and Broward House to make it easier to get an HIV test with free in-store testing.
“A lot of people know where you can be tested, but there might be a stigma,” says Glen Pietrandoni, Senior Director, Patient Care and Advocacy, at Walgreens. “There are people who want to know their HIV status but hesitate to go to the doctor’s office because they may not want to disclose certain behaviors. Or they may not want to go to that HIV clinic because they may feel stigmatized walking in. Or they may not know what other options there are. We are trying to routinize HIV testing by making it feel more normalized and comfortable. A pharmacy is a perfect location for testing. Our pharmacists are health care professionals, working in a bright, clean setting where people can learn their HIV status."
Knowing your HIV status is the first step to preventing onward transmission. It means overcoming any worries or fears about having the test performed. “The fear of a possible needle stick can be a barrier for some people,” says Pietrandoni.
He added: “Others may not know how far we’ve come in HIV care. We know how to prevent HIV, and we know how to treat it. We have medications now that fit everybody’s lifestyle. We help people get the care that they need if they are positive or should they want to be on PrEP to stay negative.”
Visit https://www.greaterthan.org/free-hiv-testing-walgreens-2018/ for Walgreen’s testing locations.