Saturday, June 27, is National HIV Testing Day, an annual event to recognize the importance of regular testing for HIV and the early diagnosis of HIV. The theme for 2020 is the power of “Knowing” – knowing your HIV status, knowing your risk, knowing your HIV prevention options, and knowing your treatment options. Don’t guess your HIV status; know it.
Before discussing this year’s events, we must take a moment to address the COVID-19 virus. COVID-19 has turned daily life upside down and devastated the globe. If there is any good that can come out the pandemic, though, then maybe it can be increased empathy for people living with HIV and an increased awareness of the importance of testing. In the same way
anyone can be at risk for COVID-19, anyone can get HIV. In the same way that the pandemic highlighted a need for accessible COVID-19 testing, people should recognize and take advantage of the wealth of resources that exists for HIV testing today.
In the U.S.V.I., anyone who wants a free HIV test can get it without an appointment. In the same way those diagnosed with COVID-19 have often struggled with societal and internal reactions of fear, despair, anger or denial, so have those living HIV faced these emotional burdens and more.
COVID-19 has also propelled the title of the nation’s unsung health heroes to the forefront of national headlines: Disease intervention specialists (DIS) or contact tracers. In the Virgin Islands, DIS and contact tracers connect those diagnosed with or exposed to communicable diseases to medical and social resources. Whether someone has been diagnosed with COVID-19, HIV, chlamydia or another common communicable disease that person can expect a confidential, friendly call from a trained Department of Health professional to help access the resources that are needed.
We now know more than ever about HIV. Unlike COVID-19, HIV does not spread through casual contact. Neither does it spread through speaking, coughing, sharing food or kissing.
Instead, HIV is spread through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles and from mother to child through childbirth and breastfeeding. There is no current cure for HIV, but treatment is very effective. In most cases, adhering to treatment as recommended will reduce the possibility of sexual transmission to zero, a fact highlighted by the common phrase, “Undetectable is Untransmittable.” There are more ways to prevent HIV than ever before, including condoms and PrEP, a daily pill that prevents HIV.
To avoid large crowds, the Department of Health Communicable Disease Division is encouraging people to get tested any day between Monday, June 22 and Friday, June 26, at a preferred HIV testing location in recognition of National HIV Testing Day.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, please call in advance if possible so the facility can prepare for the visit. Then take a selfie or short video, tag it #340GettingtoZero and share it with @virginislandsDOH on Facebook on Saturday, June 27.