Tomorrow is National HIV Testing Day, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hopes that easily accessible tests at local pharmacies will encourage greater numbers of Americans to learn their HIV status.
The CDC is rolling out a pilot program to offer free HIV tests in drug stores in cities and rural communities across the country, in addition to the routine medical care like blood pressure checks and flu shots that pharmacies already offer.
Donna McCree, the associate director of health equity for the CDC’s Division of HIV/Aids Prevention, told the Root that the pilot program will deliver critical health services to populations that would otherwise neglect to get tested:
MCCREE: Pharmacies have a vastly untapped potential to deliver HIV testing in settings that are more accessible, and they are less stigmatizing for people who really don’t want to go into STD clinics or health departments to be tested. [...] Our data also tells us that about 30 percent of the U.S. population lives within a 10-minute drive of a retail clinic. So this is our attempt to bring testing to you, where you are.
We are looking forward to seeing what the pilot tells us, and what lessons we will learn, so that we can design a comprehensive toolkit for more pharmacists to use toward implementing HIV testing. That’s the critical first step to ending this epidemic: knowing your status and getting linked to care,” she said. “This is too important to remain in the dark.”
According to the CDC, as many as 20 percent of the estimated 1.1 million Americans who are infected with HIV don’t know that they have the virus. And since it can take more than a decade for an HIV infection to cause visible symptoms and illness, a third of HIV-positive individuals don’t get tested until so late into their infection that they develop AIDS within just one year of their diagnosis.
Researchers have pointed out that increasing access to medical resources like as HIV screenings, substance abuse treatment, and education is the best way to combat rising rates of HIV infection across the country. In some cities in the United States, HIV rates are close to the rates in some African countries — and rates of HIV infection skyrocket among low-income communities. In Washington, DC alone, the infection rate for heterosexual African American women in the city’s poorest neighborhoods nearly doubled over the past two years.