Opinion

AIDS: Still killing after all these years | Amy Johnson

The red ribbon is the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV.  - Courtesy of worldaidsday.org
The red ribbon is the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV.
— image credit: Courtesy of worldaidsday.org

“Still killing after all these years” was the caption on a graphic for World AIDS Day, which occurs Dec. 1 each year.

To be fair, progress has been made. Globally, AIDS deaths are down, which means there is an increase in the numbers of people living with HIV.

Yet, shockingly, it is estimated that more than 60 percent of the 34 million people worldwide who are HIV positive are unaware of their status, according to www.unaids.org.

In the United States, 1.2 million people are living with HIV, and one in five is unaware of his or her status. There are still 51,000 new infections each year in the U.S.

There are inequities. “More than half of all new infections in the U.S. occur among people of color, with significant infection rates occurring among African American women and young black men who have sex with men,” according to Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, Wider Church Ministries at the United Church of Christ.

This does not mean, however, that straight white people don’t need to worry about getting tested.

HIV status still carries a stigma. And where there is stigma, there is usually shame and other barriers to accessing services — services that are making huge gains in the treatment of HIV, so that it is no longer the quick and certain death sentence it once was.

But in order for these gains to be realized, in order for drugs to be prescribed and taken, treatment must be sought and received. And for treatment to be sought, one must know his or her status, which means one must be tested. And, one must be tested not just one time, but anytime one has unprotected sexual activity with a partner whose HIV status is unknown.

In addition, this testing has a specific window. The test is most accurate after a three-week window has passed from the time of unprotected sex, due to the antibodies that must be present in order to have an accurate diagnosis. Even if you are using protection, if you have multiple partners, or are an intravenous drug user, it is a good idea to be tested every few months.

In honor of World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is offering free HIV testing from Dec. 10-14 at all of their locations. Visit www.plannedparenthood.org to find a location and make an appointment to get tested.

Do your part to create an AIDS-free generation.

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