June 27th marks National HIV Testing Day, which began in 1995 by the National Association of People with AIDS, (NAPWA). The day began in response to the growing number of HIV infections across all sectors of our community, which continues to happen and grow today.
It is believed that there are nearly 250,000 people in the United States that are infected with HIV and do not know it. By not knowing their status, these individuals may possibly be passing the virus onto others while also missing out on critical life saving treatments and prevention strategies that can provide for a healthier outcome, for themselves and their partners.
HIV testing is a benefit, a must, for everyone that is sexually active or shares injection needles. AID Gwinnett's prevention department includes certified HIV Prevention Counselors that can provide crucial information about understanding your behavior and how to incorporate risk reduction strategies into your life and relationships.
If you are infected, the counselors will provide you with links to services and treatments that may help you to live a longer and healthier life. You will also learn how to avoid passing the infection to your partners and how to protect yourself from other STD's, such as syphilis and gonorrhea. If you are not infected, you can learn how to remain that way.
The counseling that accompanies these testing sessions is proven to help people reduce and eliminate their risks. HIV can infect anyone, regardless of race, gender, orientation, religion, politics or age.
Should everyone be tested? Well, that may not be true. There are many people who do not and will not ever find themselves practicing risky behaviors that can expose them to HIV. But by simply talking about HIV and the test, you can help to alleviate the stigma that is associated with this horrible epidemic. Stigma directed at persons living with HIV/AIDS or those groups considered to be associated with them not only makes it more difficult for them to come to terms with and manage their illness on a personal level, but it also interferes with efforts designed to fight the AIDS epidemic as a whole. HIV stigma can and does make individuals reluctant to access testing, treatment and care.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon says: "Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps to make AIDS the silent killer, because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world."
The stigma that exists only helps to further the threat of HIV within our community by perpetuating the discomfort in having a conversation about HIV/AIDS. We must work to reconcile this discomfort, and learn to embrace it, for it is in fact the only way we can take control. The stigma is not natural, but of our own volition. We have the power to change.
HIV has continued to find new ways to reach across every sector and every group of our society. With all that we have learned about the HIV virus, the one thing that remains constant is that there is no cure. Silence still equals death.
Take control and take the test. AID Gwinnett will offer HIV rapid testing on June 27, to allow greater access for people who must work during the week. Rapid testing services will be offered from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m.
AID Gwinnett routinely provides HIV testing services from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays. The rapid test provides results in 20 minutes and no needles are used.
Please visit www.aidgwinnett.org for more information about our prevention programs designed to eliminate the threat of HIV/AIDS to our youth and other high risk groups. Help us to win our fight by donating to AID Gwinnett today. Your support can help to save a life.
Larry M. Lehman is executive director of AIDGwinnett.
People Helping People is a weekly column written by the executive directors of nonprofit organizations in Gwinnett County. Need help or know someone that does? The Gwinnett Helpline directs callers to the appropriate nonprofit agency. Call 770-995-3339.