By Byron Austin
National HIV Testing Day (June 27th) is upon us and although we have made giant leaps against the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States in the last 30 years, there is more that we can do to drive incidence rates down to zero. People in their 20’s and 30’s hardly remember the onslaught of the epidemic in the early 1980s. Furthermore, we have enjoyed the benefits of the technological, medical and public health breakthroughs that have transformed an HIV diagnosis from a death sentence into a chronic condition that can be managed when people receive (and have access to) high-quality care and adhere to their HIV treatment. Yet, more work is needed to accelerate progress in finding more effective treatments, along with a vaccine and a cure. We can also do more to hold health care professionals, policymakers and our social networks accountable for preventing the spread of HIV by getting people tested and into care.
There are 1.2 million people infected with HIV in U.S. According to the CDC, of the nearly 25,000 new HIV infections estimated to occur each year among African Americans, 38% are among young people aged 13 to 29. The rate of new infections among young black males aged 13 to 29 is seven times as high as that of young white males and three times as high as that of young Hispanic males. Disparities continue along gender lines. For young black females, infection rates are 11 times higher than those among young white females and four times higher than those among young Hispanic females.
We can do better than this.
As a public health professional who has worked in the HIV/AIDS space for the past four years, many have asked what they can do to help reduce the incidence of HIV in their communities. The most important thing to do is to educate yourself and get tested. Then share your knowledge with others and encourage them learn more and get tested.
Aside from knowing the statistics, it’s important to be cognizant of the local laws and policies that relate to HIV testing and treatment. For example, in New York State, the law states that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be offered an HIV screening test when they visit a hospital or primary care setting. From personal experience, I know that health care providers don’t always adhere to this policy – in part, because they aren’t aware of it. Education can empower patients not only to take charge of his or her own medical care, but also to positively influence health care providers and others in the community.
In the U.S., 19% of people living with HIV aren’t aware of their status and, of those who are diagnosed, only 66% are linked to health care services. We need to develop effective solutions to link people to care and keep them there.
HIV Testing Day is a reminder to get tested and to do more. You don’t have to be an HIV/AIDS expert, but it’s important to look beyond the numbers, learn the policies and promote positive behaviors in our communities.
About the Author, Byron Austin
Byron Austin is a Junior Associate at Rabin Martin, a health strategy consulting firm. Focusing on a wide array of issues that affect health and health policy in the U.S. and across the globe, Byron’s experience in the private and public sectors afford him a unique perspective that marries business objectives with public health outcomes. Byron joined the firm after various roles at mothers2mothers International, where he supported business development and the operational expansion throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. Byron is a graduate of Princeton University.