By Camisha Jones
On June 27, 2012, we are all encouraged to “Take the Test, Take Control” as part of National HIV Testing Day. Founded by the National Association of People with AIDS in 1995, National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) is an annual campaign to decrease the number of people unaware that they are living with HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus which causes AIDS. The goal this year is to increase testing by 10% in every city of the United States.
Nationally and locally, the statistics illustrate that HIV affects many in our community. Among the nearly 1.2 million people who are living with HIV in the country, approximately 27,000 of them reside in Virginia. With close to 2,500 of its citizens living with the virus, Richmond has the second highest rate of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the state. HIV/AIDS is among the top four sexually transmitted infections affecting people in the city along with gonorrhea, Chlamydia and syphilis.
The number of new infections paired with the number of estimated people who are unaware that they are infected makes the importance of testing clear. Each year in America there are approximately 19 million new people infected with HIV. One in 5 people don’t know they are infected. The Virginia Department of Health estimates that there are 7,000 people in the state who are infected but don’t know.
This is a situation where what we don’t know can do us great harm. Left untreated, HIV can seriously compromise the overall health of those who are infected. Without testing, it is possible to live with the disease for seven to ten years without any noticeable symptoms. Not knowing also makes it more likely that those you have sex with may be put at risk of contracting the virus. It’s important to not only know your HIV status but whether or not you have a sexually transmitted disease of any kind. People with untreated sexually transmitted diseases are at greater risk of contracting HIV and prone to be more infectious if they get the virus. This is especially true for those with herpes.
HIV has a major impact on the African American community. Nationally, in 2009 Blacks accounted for 14 percent of the population, but 52% of people with new HIV infections. The Virginia Department of Health reports that 62% of Virginians living with HIV/AIDS are Black. Blacks are 9 times more likely to be living with HIV/AIDS than Whites and 77% of women living with the disease are Black. Research conducted by the CDC in 2009 also shows that HIV disproportionately affects Black youth, particularly young men who have sex with men (MSM).
The bottom line is that anyone engaging in unprotected sexual activity, including oral sex, is at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The CDC encourages every person aged 13 to 64 to get an HIV test. The National Association of People with AIDS lists these benefits for getting tested: “People who find out they are HIV-negative can take steps to stay HIV-free. People who find out they are HIV-positive can get early treatment to help them live longer, healthier lives. They can also take steps to protect their partners’ health. Every new HIV infection prevented can save up to $367,000 per person in lifetime medical costs.”
Preventing the further spread of HIV/AIDS requires vigilance from us all and knowing your status is one way to actively help combat the disease. You can find out your status while also enjoying a night of fun on June 29th at the Skate Party being held in observance of National HIV Testing Day at Skate Land, located at 5512 Hull Street Road. The event will include free testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, free Walmart gift cards of up to $20 for people who get tested and, of course, skating. Professionals will be available to answer any questions and to provide prevention information. Sponsored by Radio One, the Richmond City Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Coalition and the Richmond City Health District, there will be family skate time for all ages from 7:30p.m. until 10:30p.m. and adult skate time for people ages 18 and up from 10:30p.m. until 12:30a.m. While the event costs $3, free admission passes are available at the Richmond City Health District office located at 400 E. Cary Street prior to the event. The office is open Monday through Friday from 8a.m. until 5p.m.
If you miss the Skate Party, the Richmond City Health District has a sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinic at 400 E. Cary Street which offers walk-in STI testing on a first-come-first-serve basis on Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. For clinic information, call 482-5500. Other sites where you can get tested in Richmond include Fan Free Clinic, Daily Planet, and the Minority Health Consortium. You can also locate a site by calling the Virginia HIV/STD Hotline at 1-800-533-4148 or visiting www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/diseaseprevention.