The following is a guest post from Kasey Harding-Wheeler, Director of HIV Services at CHC about National HIV Testing Day:
If you walked down the streets of Middletown yesterday a few things probably caught your eye. The red balloons and sandwich board advertising National HIV Testing Day activities outside of our brand new Middletown building, the Oasis staff and volunteers decked out in red shirts passing out condom packets along Main Street, the posters asking, “Do you know your status?” and our wonderful AmeriCorps volunteers passing out information and directing people to the testing site. Every day is HIV testing Day at Oasis where rapid and confidential testing is conducted, information is exchanged and condoms are distributed by the bagful but National HIV Testing Day gives us the opportunity to put the importance of HIV testing at the forefront for at least one day!
In President Obama’s statement yesterday he reported that 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV but over 200,000 of them are still unaware of their status and may be unknowingly transmitting the virus. The president also stated that “knowing your HIV status is a vital step toward accessing life extending treatment for HIV, and thanks to on-going research, that treatment is more effective than ever.”
CHC’s commitment to providing HIV prevention counseling, education and testing was proven once again when Enid Healey, our Oasis HIV counselor and tester, spent nine hours in the Access to Care office at our new Middletown building yesterday providing 17 rapid HIV tests, risk reduction counseling and HIV education. In addition, Oasis staff and volunteers provided outreach throughout the day, distributing 3,500 condoms, 4,000 educational leaflets/brochures and linking 4 new patients to care at CHC. Together CHC’s other sites conducted an additional 19 rapid HIV tests and engaged 2 people living with HIV in care for the first time.
The most amazing part of this day for me is remembering back to 15 years ago when I entered the HIV field. There was no day committed to HIV testing because in order to be tested you needed to find a lab to do the test and return three weeks later for your results. The rate of people who tested positive and actually returned for their results was 27% in 1998 with the rest of those individuals remaining unaware of their status. Today you can come receive risk reduction counseling during the twenty minutes it take to conduct the rapid HIV test and be linked to comprehensive HIV treatment and care on the same day. Now that’s progress!
National HIV Testing Day is over but testing continues everyday at Oasis Wellness Center and CHC sites across Connecticut. Do you know your status?