Medical treatment for HIV has developed rapidly over the past two decades – to the point that HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was. Yet despite improvements in treatment and safe-sex education, an estimated 56,000 Americans will still become HIV positive this year.
Many experts believe that this is because an estimated 21 percent of those living with HIV are unaware of the infection – meaning they don’t take precautions to avoid passing the disease onto their partners.
In order to help combat this, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have set up a pilot program offering free, fast HIV testing in pharmacies and in-store clinics in 24 metropolitan locations. All you need to do is take a swab from inside your cheek. Twenty minutes later, you’ll have the result, and a referral to a local health care provider if the test is positive.
So will this new testing be successful? So far only a handful of people have taken advantage of it – but hopes are that the testing will take off, the program will be rolled out nationwide and HIV figures will see a substantial dent as a result.
But there are many people who believe that even offering free, anonymous testing will prove futile. Currently, less than 50 percent of those under 65 have taken an HIV test; and access is not perceived to be the major reason why not.
Some suggest that the reason there are so many people at risk of HIV who refuse to get tested is because they don’t want to know the result – because whether the result was positive or negative, it would bring with it a certainty that would force them to reevaluate their lifestyle and sexual behavior.
Members of the gay community have also highlighted how certain laws can negatively target those who are HIV positive – like an HIV positive man who was sentenced to 25 years in jail for having (safe) sex with another man without disclosing his HIV status.
“No status = no problem,” wrote Joseph, a reader of queerty.com. “Best case scenario, the test comes back negative. Worst case scenario, I go from being a human to a deadly weapon in a matter of seconds.”
What do you think? Will free HIV testing have a positive impact? Or are there other issues surrounding the stigma of a positive HIV status that need to be addressed first?