Who should get tested for HIV?

By: Molly Edmonds

Barack Obama Image Gallery Barack and Michelle Obama have blood drawn for an HIV test in Kenya. See more pictures of Barack Obama.
Associated Press/Sayyid Azim

In 2006, then-Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were tested for HIV on a trip to Kenya. The Obamas decided to get tested in public to try to lessen the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. If you know your HIV status, he told the audience in Kisian, then you can take control of your health and prevent the spread of the disease to your partners and your children [source: White House]. In 2009, on National HIV Testing Day, President Obama told U.S. residents that his message to Kenyans applied to them as well, and he encouraged them to get tested.

National HIV Testing Day occurs every year on June 27. Founded by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) in 1995, it began as a way to promote HIV testing. In the days leading up to June 27, many local, state and national organizations host events and campaigns that include opportunities to get tested. You can find out what's going on near you by going to HIVtest.org.


Though one of the aims of National HIV Testing Day is to eliminate the stigma surrounding HIV and HIV testing, there are many people who will probably decide not to be tested. They may fear they'll see someone they know, or they may fear what the outcome may be. Denial is also an issue; some may think AIDS is something that happens somewhere else, while others may indulge in the thought, "It won't happen to me."

The fact of the matter is, a person in the United States is infected with HIV every 9 1/2 minutes (about 56,300 infections each year) [source: KFF]. The only way to know if you're among them is to get tested.



The AIDS Epidemic and HIV Testing

The Black AIDS Institute used the slogan "How Do You Know?" to encourage HIV testing.
The Black AIDS Institute used the slogan "How Do You Know?" to encourage HIV testing.
Associated Press/Branimir Kvartuc

We've come a long way in our understanding of HIV since June 1981, when doctors saw the first cases of what would come to be known as AIDS. We now know how the disease spreads, and we've made remarkable breakthroughs in treatment options so people who are diagnosed and treated can live longer, healthier lives.

Those advances don't mean the AIDS epidemic is over, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV today. Of that 1.1 million, 20 percent don't know that they're infected. One in 5 people are unaware of their status, which highlights just how important events like National HIV Testing Day are. Studies have shown that most people who know they have HIV effectively prevent the spread of the disease to their sexual partners and future children. And not only do they avoid infecting others, they can also obtain the care they need before their disease progresses, which gives them more treatment options and a better prognosis [source: CDC].


The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 has an HIV test. The CDC also encourages pregnant women to be tested as part of their prenatal care, since certain medications can lower the chances of passing HIV to the baby. Groups of people who are at high risk for HIV should also be tested on an annual basis. These high-risk groups include:

  • Intravenous drug users and their sexual partners
  • Sexual partners of people already diagnosed with HIV
  • Gay and bisexual men
  • People who have had more than one sex partner since their most recent HIV test

Since HIV disproportionately affects black people and Latinos, they may choose to undergo more regular testing as well.

Although these are the CDC's recommendations for testing, an HIV test isn't a regular part of a checkup. Patients have to ask for it, and the fear and stigma surrounding HIV may keep them from doing so. Again, though, knowing your status is crucial. If your test is positive, you can start seeing a doctor and receiving treatment. If your test is negative, you can learn about the steps you need to take to stay HIV-negative. These steps include abstaining from sex, using a condom every time you have sex, not using other people's needles and asking potential sexual partners to get tested.

The magnitude of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S. is spurring the White House to take action. Read on to find out about what the Office of National AIDS Policy is doing to address the issue.


The White House's Office for National AIDS Policy

HIV testing can be done orally, or by drawing blood
HIV testing can be done orally, or by drawing blood
Gallo Images/Getty Images

President Barack Obama has set three goals related to the AIDS epidemic in the United States. First, he wants to reduce the rates of HIV incidence. Next, he wants to give people who are diagnosed better access to care and better treatment options. Finally, he wants to reduce HIV-related disparities so that some groups aren't more at risk than others.

The Office on National AIDS Policy (ONAP) has been tasked with creating the plan that will achieve these goals. As of June 2010, ONAP is finalizing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) which will serve as a guide for reducing infections and increasing access to care. To create the strategy, ONAP gathered extensive public feedback. As part of its public involvement campaign, the office held community discussions in 14 cities, solicited comments on its Web site and conducted meetings with stakeholders, such as business leaders and HIV-positive people who live in rural areas. In April 2010, ONAP released a report that included all of the recommendations it had heard. Now, the office is working on refining the ideas so it can present the most effective ones to the president.


It's a safe bet that among the ideas included in the NHAS will be several related to HIV testing. Since HIV is transmitted largely by people who don't know they have the disease, increased testing will be important to curbing the infection rate. The White House, in conjunction with local and state health organizations, may look for more ways of removing stigma surrounding HIV testing and the disease itself. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for curbing the spread of HIV rests with the individual. It takes a person's will and determination to request the test. So if you're looking for something to do on June 27, why not participate in National HIV Testing Day? And don't think you're off the hook if you already have plans -- no matter the date, it's a good day to get tested for HIV.

For more information on HIV and AIDS, see the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

  • AIDS.gov Web site. (June 17, 2010)http://aids.gov/
  • Branson, Bernard M., H. Hunter Handsfield, Margaret A. Lampe, Robert S. Janssen, Allan W. Taylor, Sheryl B. Lyss, Jill E. Clark. "Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health Care Settings." CDC. Sept. 22, 2006. (June 17, 2010)http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5514a1.htm
  • CDC HIV/AIDS Web site. (June 17, 2010)http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/
  • CDC National HIV and STD Testing Resources Web site. (June 17, 2010)http://hivtest.org/
  • "HIV/AIDS Policy." The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. September 2009. (June 17, 2010)http://www.kff.org/hivaids/upload/3029-10.pdf
  • MTV'S It's Your Sex Life Web site. (June 17, 2010)http://www.itsyoursexlife.com/gyt
  • National Association of People with AIDS Web site. (June 17, 2010)http://www.napwa.org/
  • White House. Office of National AIDS Policy Web site. (June 17, 2010)http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/onap/
  • White House. "President Obama on National HIV Testing Day." YouTube. June 26, 2009. (June 17, 2010)http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNuA_jt0Od8