In recognition of National HIV Testing Day (June 27), the public policy team and others at amfAR (the Foundation for AIDS Research) have been engaged with activists and medical professionals to educate particularly at-risk populations of the importance of early and regular testing for HIV. Mindful that the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that fifteen percent of the people in the U.S. living with HIV are unaware of their serostatus, and further that those undiagnosed are responsible for forty percent of new transmittals, amfAR and others have ramped up their educational efforts. Those efforts have included public speaking, the creation of A Practical Guide to Getting Tested for HIV, and a series of “Epic Voices” videos of warriors in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
One area of particular concern is the American South. Resources are available to help vulnerable populations receive proper testing and care, but the stigma attached to HIV can deter individuals from getting tested and/or acquiring treatment. amfAR asserts that this is especially true in the south, where the stigma attached to HIV has led to the region’s accounting for an estimated forty-four percent of the nation’s HIV cases, despite being only thirty-seven percent of the population.
Released just earlier this month, amfAR’s A Practical Guide to Getting Tested for HIV, available online, is a concise, easily understood question-and-answer guide to getting tested for HIV. The Guide begins by emphasizing that “All sexually active people, particularly those who have had multiple sex partners (gay or straight), should get tested.” It covers very thoroughly the most basic information, from “What is an HIV test?” (explaining that an HIV test reveals the presence of antibodies and antigens) and “Why should I get tested?” (to know to take care of your own health and others’)—literally, the how, why, when, and where to get an HIV test. It also covers when re-testing is advised, the uses of PrEP and PEP, and what to do, immediately and long-term, if your test is positive.
The “Epic Voices” project, part of amfAR’s “Countdown to the Cure” program, brings together a diverse crew—nurses, doctors, advocates and activists, long-term survivors of HIV—to talk about what a cure would mean to them and to people whom they know and/or serve. Brittany Combs, for instance, is the Public Health Nurse for the Scott County Health Department in Indiana, who instituted the state’s first needle exchange program when then Governor Mike Pence shut down Planned Parenthood facilities in the state and Austin became the epicenter of an outbreak in 2014 of over 200 cases of HIV. Regan Hofman is the former editor of POZ magazine whose memoir, I Have Something to Tell You, was published in 2009; she has been an advocate for people living with HIV for almost 20 years. Paul Volberding, M.D. is the Director of the amfAR Institute for HIV Cure Research at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF); Viktor Luna is a Los Angeles-based fashion designer who was a contestant on Season 9 of Project Runway, who wants to raise awareness of HIV and stigma within the Latino community; Daniel Driffin is a PLWHIV who spoke at the Democratic Party Convention in Philadelphia in 2016. They and seven others, including activists Maria Mejia and Ryan Palao (drag performer Ongina), discuss what a cure would mean to them, and their communities, with answers ranging from the mundane (“I’m looking forward to not taking pills anymore.”) to the more socially relevant (addressing racial, class, and socioeconomic disparities in HIV treatment). All express cautious hope for a cure sooner rather than later.
—Reporting by Hank Trout
To read and/or print out A Practical Guide to Getting Tested for HIV, log on to: www.amfar.org/About-HIV-and-AIDS/HIV-Testing/A-Practical-Guide-to-Getting-Tested-for-HIV/; to watch the “Epic Voices” videos, log on to: www.curecountdown.org/epicvoices/. More information about amfAR can be found at www.amfar.org.
Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.