To Test or Not to Test, That Is the Question

Opinion Editorial by CEO and Founder Phill Wilson

Phill Wilson Scientific denialists have been around since, well ... the beginning of recorded science. One group of denialists refused to believe that the earth was round. Another group believed that the sun revolved around the earth until long after scientific evidence had proved it works the other way around. A group of denialists wants us to believe that President Obama is Muslim, while another group, called "birthers," continues to challenge his presidency because they refuse to believe he was born in the United States.

It should come as no surprise that there are AIDS denialists as well. Typically these people either reject the fact that AIDS exists, disagree that HIV causes AIDS, claim that AIDS is caused by the very medications designed to treat it, or try to dissuade people from taking an HIV test. Black people cannot allow ourselves to be either distracted or bamboozled by these types of dubious claims. Given the magnitude of the AIDS epidemic in Black America, we should consider AIDS denialists not only dangerous, but even enemies of our community. With all the myths and misinformation swirling around about HIV/AIDS, I completely understand that some of us might be nervous about getting tested. So let's look at the facts about HIV testing and the reasons why Black people should do it.

An HIV test is nothing more, or less, than a way of assessing our risk of HIV and getting information about the status of our health. Whether we're talking blood pressure or diabetes, cholesterol levels or HIV serostatus, it is important to have as much information as possible about our healthfulness so we can make informed decisions. Everyone should have access to HIV testing regardless of their ability to pay, and each of us should take responsibility for knowing our own and our partners' HIV status. Knowing our own status and that of our partners gives us choices denied when we don't have that information, including the option of whether to have sex or unprotected sex.

Are there false positives and false negatives? Yes, of course there are. Similar to other screening tests -- for various cancers, diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc. -- a very low number of inaccurate results occur. This is why positive HIV-test results are always confirmed and why sexually active individuals are encouraged to get tested at least once a year.

Nearly 500,000 of the 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS are Black. Nearly 40 percent of Black Americans have a family member or close family friend who is living with or has died from HIV/AIDS. Those of us living with HIV/AIDS, or who have lost family and friends to it, know painfully well that the connection between HIV and AIDS is not theoretical; it is very, very real.

I have been living with HIV for nearly 30 years. So I know first hand what can happen when people with HIV receive love and support from family and friends and have access to appropriate care. I am living proof of the benefits of medical treatment. I thank God that no denialist was by my bedside in 1996, when my doctors thought I had less than 24 hours to live and insisted I start new medical therapies. I am alive today because I got tested for HIV early and I receive the necessary treatment.

It is easy to succumb to fear and doubt. It is easy to allow myths and misinformation to paralyze us and prevent us from taking action. But it would be tragic if we were to allow fear-mongering, misinformation and conspiracy theories to drag us backwards to suffering and death that existed during the 1980s. There is a drastic difference between the healing and empowerment that happens in communities that confront HIV/AIDS directly and the death and devastation that takes place in communities that do not. Black Americans represent nearly half of the nation's new HIV/AIDS cases and nearly half of the AIDS-related deaths because for far too long, we either pretended that AIDS was not real or that it was somebody else's problem. Fortunately, in recent years Black leaders, institutions and community members have started to mobilize to confront HIV directly and honestly.

Ask anyone infected with or affected by HIV/AIDS, and they will tell you that AIDS is no joke. We must avail ourselves of all of the possible tools at our disposal: participating in clinical trials, early access to appropriate care and treatment, proper condom usage, educating ourselves about every aspect of the disease, and getting tested. Knowing is greater than doubt.

Yours in the struggle,