Since 1988, Dec. 1 has been an internationally recognized day dedicated to raising awareness about HIV infection and the AIDS epidemic. This year, several municipalities and counties are offering free, confidential HIV testing in recognition of World AIDS Day.
Testing is one of the most important tools for combating AIDS. With treatment therapies, individuals living with HIV can suppress their HIV viral load in order to support their immune system and keep from transmitting the disease to loved ones.
Unfortunately, the disease is still rooted in stigma despite the medical advances that make living as an HIV-positive individual safe and undetectable. In addition, older adults are less likely than younger people to get tested, making them more at risk for living with the virus without knowing.
Many other diseases can also mask signs of HIV/AIDS. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) found that “nearly half of people living with HIV in the United States are age 50 and older.” Because HIV in older adults can result in an increased risk of chronic diseases, early treatment is important.
Where to find testing
Despite testing being the key to combating the spread of HIV and AIDS, it can be cost-prohibitive, especially for those without insurance. However, many areas will offer free testing on Dec. 1, 2021, in accordance with World AIDS Day.
An incomprehensive list of sites with free testing on Dec. 1 include:
- Medical Advocacy and Outreach of Alabama
- Birmingham, Alabama City Hall
- Chicago, Illinois, Family Health Center
- Northern Kentucky Health Department
- Irvington Department of Health & Senior Services in Irvington, New Jersey
- Fargo, North Dakota Public Health
- Kent County Health Department in Michigan
- Agencies in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania
- Waco-McLennan County Public Health Department in Waco, Texas
- South Carolina Department of Public Health
- Virginia Beach, Virginia Department of Human Services
- Monongalia County and Kanawha-Charleston Health Departments in West Virginia
- And several more counties across the United States and United Kingdom
In 2020, Jonathan Van Ness took to Twitter on World AIDS Day to announce his own HIV-positive status and attempt to combat the stigma surrounding the virus. The “Queer Eye” star is one of only a handful celebrities who have been open about living with HIV in an effort to reduce stigma, along with Charlie Sheen, Magic Johnson and Billy Porter.
Around the world, the United Nations estimates about 37.7 million people to be living with HIV. But only about 28.2 million people have access to life-saving antiretroviral therapy. According to USA Today, about one in seven Americans of the 1.1 million living with HIV don’t know they’re infected.
Encouraging testing and reducing stigma surrounding HIV can help save lives by increasing access to antiretroviral therapy before the disease has a chance to attack the body’s immune system. In turn, the therapy also makes the chances of spreading the virus to partners low, a strategy known as “treatment as prevention.”
For more information on local testing centers, contact your public health department.