As a sexually active gay man, Edric Figueroa gets tested for HIV every three months. As the Gay Outreach Program coordinator for AID Atlanta, he’s working with others to get as many people tested as possible.
Last year, AID Atlanta tested nearly 7,000 people for HIV. This year for National HIV Testing Day on June 27, Figueroa and others will be out at various locations throughout Atlanta offering free HIV tests. Being visible is part of educating people about knowing their status, Figueroa said.
AID Atlanta will be at Underground Atlanta from 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on National HIV Testing Day.
“For a lot of people this is a chance to get tested where they work, in downtown. This is taking down another barrier to testing,” he explained.
This Sunday, June 24, AID Atlanta will set up at Piedmont Park to offer free HIV testing from 4:30 to 7 p.m.
“We know this is where the gay community frequents and again it’s about going to where people are [to offer HIV testing],” he said.
With gay and bisexual men as the only demographic that continues to see HIV infections rise each year, it is important to go to where they work and play. Even if they don’t get tested, they will see people receiving HIV tests and perhaps begin to think about being tested themselves, Figueroa said.
“The community may be getting tired of hearing about HIV, but the fact is a lot of people are still getting infected,” he said. “The Southeast is the only area in the country where HIV rates are going up and gay and bisexual men are the most affected.”
The CDC estimates that more than 1 million people in the U.S. have HIV but one in five do not know they have it.
Currently, AID Atlanta is seeking recruiters to talk with their sex partners, their drinking buddies, people they do drugs with and others to talk about the need for HIV testing. Talking about HIV is one of the ways to destroy stigma surrounding the disease that often prevents people from getting tested.
The truth is, there is absolutely no reason for people, especially gay and bisexual men, to not get tested when there are so many free testing available in Atlanta, Figueroa said.
“There is no bad news when you get tested. When you learn your results you know how to protect yourself and your community,” he explained.
19 years of National HIV Testing Days
Georgia is ranked sixth in the nation for AIDS cases through December 2009, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health. In 2010, roughly 40,000 people were living with HIV/AIDS in Georgia with Fulton and DeKalb Counties accounting for the highest HIV infections in the state.
National HIV Testing Day was organized each year by the National Association of People with AIDS and is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and AIDS.gov. The first National HIV Testing Day was recognized June 27, 2005, as a way to bring awareness to testing and people knowing their status.
After 30 years, however, NAPWA no longer exists. The organization shut its doors on Feb. 14, 2013, and filed for bankruptcy.
In 2009, the CDC and the White House launched a campaign named “Act Against AIDS” to further expand HIV testing.
Gay, bi men severely impacted by HIV according to the CDC:
• In 2010, the latest detailed numbers available, gay and bisexual men accounted for 63 percent of estimated new HIV infections in the United States and 78 percent of infections among all newly infected men. Compared with other transmission groups, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for the largest numbers of new HIV infections in 2010.
• Among all gay and bisexual men, white MSM accounted for 11,400 (or 38 percent) estimated new HIV infections in 2010. The largest number of new infections among white MSM (3,300, or 29 percent) occurred in those aged 25 to 34.
• Among all gay and bisexual men, black/African American gay men accounted for 10,600 (36 percent) estimated new HIV infections in 2010. From 2008 to 2010, new HIV infections increased 22 percent among young (aged 13-24) gay men and 12 percent among gay and bisexual men overall — an increase largely due to a 20 percent increase among young black/African American gay men.
• Among all gay and bisexual men, Hispanic/Latino men who have sex with men accounted for 6,700 (22 percent) estimated new HIV infections in 2010. The largest number of new infections among Hispanic/Latino MSM (3,300, or 39 percent) occurred in those aged 25 to 34.
National HIV Testing Day events
Saturday, June 22
Film: ‘Why Us? Left Behind & Dying’ 3 p.m. Auburn Avenue Research Library 101 Auburn Ave., Atlanta, GA 30303 http://on.fb.me/11wVl7d • Presented in collaboration with Cycle for Freedom Inc.
Sunday, June 23
HIV Testing at Piedmont Park 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. • Presented by AID Atlanta
Monday, June 24
Someone Cares Inc. Community Health Fair Noon to 4 p.m. Lavista Crossing Apartments 3797 Lavista Road, Tucker, GA 30064 www.someonecaresatl.org • With Travelers Aid, Hope Atlanta and Kennesaw State University Nursing Department