Obama highlights importance of HIV testing


President Barack Obama, observing National HIV Testing Day, highlighted the importance of the personal act – taking the test – in the larger fight against HIV and AIDS.

Of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV, more than 200,000 are unaware of their infection, and may unknowingly be transmitting the virus to others, Obama stated.

“Knowing your HIV status is a vital step toward accessing life-extending treatment for HIV, and thanks to ongoing research, that treatment is more effective than ever,” he said.

In July 2010, the administration released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which emphasized the goals of reducing infections, improving health outcomes and reducing HIV-related health disparities.  Two years into its implementation, the president said, “The strategy continues to focus federal, state, and local efforts on improving the delivery of HIV/AIDS services, including expanding outreach, testing, linkage to care and treatment.  

“Testing remains a special priority – and thanks to quick and accurate tests, finding out your HIV status has never been easier,” Obama said.

He added that the Affordable Care Act – the focus of a Supreme Court challenge likely to be decided on June 28 – requires many health insurance plans to provide recommended preventive health services with no out of pocket costs.

Also, a CDC program, the Expanding Testing Initiative, has conducted 2.8 million tests in its first three years.

“Together, these and other efforts will help prevent new infections and ensure that people living with HIV lead healthy lives – moving us towards our goal of an AIDS-free generation,” Obama said.

In related news, the CDC this week unveiled a new two-year initiative to train pharmacists and clinic staff members at retail stores to administer rapid HIV testing, in efforts to make testing easily accessible and available on a widespread scale.

The CDC said that the pilot program includes 24 different cities and communities.

“Our goal is to make HIV testing as routine as a blood pressure check,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “This initiative is one example of how we can make testing routine and help identify the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are unaware that they are infected.”

Reuters reported this week that Walgreens plans to participate in the pilot program, offering rapid testing at stores in Chicago and Washington, D.C.

It takes about 20 minutes to get a result from the swab test administered in the program.

Currently, the CDC recommends that all adults and teens get tested at least once in his or her lifetime for HIV.

A San Francisco coalition of health officials, AIDS activists and policymakers recently launched a multimedia campaign to encourage gay and bisexual men to get tested regularly for HIV.

The campaign, “Many Shades of Gay,” invites users to create a personalized, digital avatar. Described as “the most robust avatar generator ever built,” the site contains billions of customization options, including wardrobe, accessories, tattoos – and piercings – allowing people to create an avatar as conservative or campy as they desire.

Once an avatar is created, it informs the user about the importance of regular HIV testing and helps them to find the nearest testing location. The website also allows users to opt in to receive reminders via email or text from their avatar when it’s time to get another HIV test. The site includes a channel for HIV-positive guys, which provides health information and resources to connect them to HIV treatment and care.

To see the campaign and create an avatar, visit www.manyshadesofgay.com.

Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.