Each year, America observes National HIV Testing Day on June 27, raising awareness about the importance of testing for HIV and getting an early diagnosis. Called NHTD in short, this day is crucial for encouraging people to increase HIV testing and know their status, and thus get the care they need to treat this illness.
HISTORY OF NATIONAL HIV TESTING DAY
The HIV virus itself was identified in the 19th century by French and American scientists. Dr. Robert Gallo co-discovered HIV as the cause of AIDS. This breakthrough meant companies could begin testing for antibodies produced in response to this virus and hopefully protect people from the effects of HIV. Initial tests conducted in this period were not to diagnose people with HIV or AIDS but to screen donated blood for a possible infection. As “TIME” magazine reported at the time, the fear of contaminated blood was running high, even though a very small fraction of people had contracted HIV through blood transfusions. The nature of these tests meant scientists and labs got a lot of false positives; medical uncertainty meant people did not know if the positive result meant people were infected, or if they had simply been exposed. A label on one of the early tests — which is in the Smithsonian Museum of American History, clearly states that it was not to be used as a test to screen for HIV or AIDS. The advance of HIV testing among the common public was marred by the stigma attached to the illness. These reasons turned the testing process on its head. New protocols were added, new experimental studies were conducted, and testing awareness drives were conducted.
The future looks promising, however. An American called Timothy Ray Brown was the first person to ever be cured of HIV. Contracting the illness at university in the late nineties, he received a stem cell transplant ten years later, after being diagnosed with leukemia. Luckily for Timothy, his donor had a rare genetic mutation conferring resistance to HIV. Timothy remained HIV-free ever since. Scientists have been trying to replicate this success ever since, and are using this lesson to try and develop a broadly applicable cure.
In the late 19th century, dozens of scientists worked round-the-clock to create a revolutionary new HIV test that changed how this illness was diagnosed. Ten years later, the National Association of People With AIDS founded National HIV Testing Day to increase the number of people testing themselves for this illness. The program got off to a very successful start and has been running ever since.
The NHTD theme for 2022 is “HIV Testing is Self-care.” The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” The topic of self-care has been particularly prominent during the COVID-19 pandemic as the need for individual and community actions to protect and promote physical and mental health have been so critical. HIV testing is an act of self-care, and knowledge of status is the gateway to engaging in prevention or treatment services that enable individuals, regardless of their status, to live a long and healthy life.
Using this theme, partners can add a tagline to customize as they like. For example:
- HIV Testing is Self-care: Testing is key to ending the HIV epidemic.
- HIV Testing is Self-care: Taking the test is taking care of you.
- HIV Testing is Self-care: Take care of you and others too!
- HIV Testing is Self-care: Choose a test and choose to take care of you.
As part of NHTD, please use the hashtag #HIVTesting Day on your social media channels and communicate to your audiences that there are many options for getting tested for HIV. Testing, including self-testing, is the first step in the care or prevention journey, regardless of the test result, and a critical tool to helping us end the HIV epidemic in the United States. We appreciate all that you contribute to helping us achieve this goal.
HOW TO OBSERVE NATIONAL HIV TESTING DAY
Stay in the know
The National Association of People With AIDS and partner organizations distribute literature and content about the many ways we can raise awareness among ourselves about HIV and AIDS. This day also encourages us to get more informed about HIV testing and when it is appropriate, along with broader knowledge about this illness and how to manage it. Some information also focuses on self-testing when outside visits are not an option or are limited.
Promote HIV testing
Do your part to reduce the stigma and support HIV testing. Get tested as a part of routine health care — something the CDC recommends for everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 — and promote HIV testing on your social media too.
Participate in a clinical trial
If you are healthy and willing, some clinical trials run by vaccine companies may be on the lookout for volunteers to run vaccine studies on. This clinical research can go a long way towards developing new and effective treatments, and hopefully, find a cure for HIV and AIDS.
5 FACTS ABOUT HIV
A high global number
HIV is prevalent worldwide, with nearly 38 million people affected by it.
U.S. numbers are substantial too
Data shows nearly 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV; around 39,000 people are infected each year.
People don’t know they are infected
Studies estimate around 14% of the people who live with HIV in the U.S. don’t know they have been infected.
Three is no vaccine to prevent HIV
While researchers have been working for over 20 years to develop an effective vaccine for HIV, they have been unsuccessful so far.
One person has been cured of HIV
Timothy Ray Brown — known as the ‘Berlin patient,’ is the first and only person in the world to be cured of HIV.
WHY NATIONAL HIV TESTING DAY IS IMPORTANT
It reduces the stigma associated with HIV
National HIV Testing Day normalizes this illness, striving to bring people into testing centers all over America. Observing this day sensitizes all of us to this illness, allowing the stigma linked to HIV and AIDS to fade gradually. Ultimately, we see days and programs like these as a critical resource in the fight against HIV and related disorders.
It empowers communities and the hardest-hit populations
National HIV Testing Day empowers communities, partners on the ground, and healthcare providers by normalizing HIV testing. In consequence, this increased testing allows us to prevent HIV among the hardest hit population and help the people already infected to stay healthy and positive.
It helps people manage HIV
For all the people with undiagnosed HIV, National HIV Testing Day encourages testing, which is the first step towards managing this illness. The earlier people test themselves, the more steps people can take towards maintaining a healthy life and reducing the spread of HIV.
Thank you for your support of this year’s National HIV Testing Day!
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