Today is National HIV Testing Day — 24 hours set aside to encourage HIV testing and increase awareness of the effects this disease has in the US.
“This is not the ‘80s and ‘90s where there’s this huge fundamental understanding of what HIV/AIDS is. The disease changed. The science changed. People live long and healthy lives when they have access to proper healthcare and treatment,” said Sequoia Ayala, policy and advocacy program manager for SisterLove. “National HIV Testing day is really a time to education folks, but we wanted to take it a step further and not only talk about HIV, but also HIV and how it affects our community.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1.1 million Americans live with HIV, and an estimated 166,000 of those don’t know they are infected. That means about 30 percent of HIV infections are transmitted by people living undiagnosed.
And in the Peach State, more than one-fourth of all Georgians living with HIV are unaware of their status, according to the Georgia Coalition to End HIV Criminalization.
There are three types of HIV tests: antibody tests that detect the presence of proteins a body makes against HIV; combination tests that look for both HIV antibodies and antigens, which are part of the HIV virus itself; and nucleic acid tests, which look for HIV in the blood. Most tests will be antibody or combination, as the nucleic acid tests tend to be expensive — though they are also the fastest route to detect HIV.
According to the CDC, if the initial test of blood or oral fluid is positive, the next step is follow-up testing.
Aside from the testing aspect, today is a day some organizations want to raise awareness of how Georgia handles HIV stigma.
“This same stigma may discourage individuals from getting tested … because of the potential for criminal liability once one is knowledgeable that they are living with HIV and an accusation of non-disclosure is made to the police,” the coalition reported in a news release.
“You can be subject to criminal culpability if you do not disclose before engaging in a list of activities which could possibly result in exposure to HIV. If someone were to have sex with a partner without disclosing, they could face up to 10 years,” Ayala said. “Most unfortunately, oftentimes the onus is placed on the HIV-positive person to prove that they actually disclosed, which is very, very hard, because it goes into a he-said, she-said type of situation.”
By increasing education, Ayala and other HIV/AIDS activists hope to lessen the penalty for someone being accused of non-disclosure. Right now it’s a felony, and she doesn’t believe that’s fair. They also hope to change the law to include general intent.
“If there’s an allegation or accusation that you have not disclosed, that in and of itself is translated to ‘you acted to transmit the virus,’ as opposed to requiring specific and malicious intent, which we feel is more accurate and what the legislature should address,” Ayala said.
The CDC recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested for HIV at least once a year, and a number of Atlanta organizations have testing events today to help get that done.
CDC test locator Text your ZIP code to 566948, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO, to find a testing location in your area
AID Atlanta testing opportunity 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. Dugans, 777 Ponce de Leon Avenue NE, Atlanta