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HIV Testing

By Gary Bell

August 26, 2009

Few would argue that HIV testing is one of the most vital tools in addressing the HIV epidemic. But, does everyone feel that way, or even understand the significance of knowing his/her HIV status. A recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (June 2009) found that despite efforts to encourage more HIV testing, including making it a part of routine medical care, "reported rates of HIV testing have remained flat over time." In fact, the share of non-elderly (ages 13-64) who report having been tested within the last year has not changed in over a decade. Although some groups, such as African Americans, Latinos and young adults are more likely to report having been tested, even their rates have remained virtually unchanged over the last several years. In 2009, less than one-half of the adults in the United States say that they have ever been tested.

Another study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control Morbidity and Mortality Report -- June 26, 2009) suggests that many people do not submit to HIV testing until late into the course of their infection. In the study, 45% of the testers progressed to a full blown AIDS diagnosis within 3 years of their positive HIV test. More troubling is that over a third (38%) progressed to full blown AIDS within a year. Moreover, minorities, especially African American men, were more likely to progress to full blown AIDS within 3 years of HIV diagnosis, e.g., were late testers.

The moral of the story: get tested, even if you do not think you are at risk. Too many people are apparently waiting until they get sick to get an HIV test. Consequently, they are giving HIV a head start and limiting the possibilities for successful treatment. HIV may be becoming a chronic disease, but the quality of life may be significantly improved by early testing and treatment. So, what are you waiting for?

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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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