June 27 marks National HIV Testing Day, a public health campaign to encourage Americans to find out their status and take steps to safeguard their sexual health. The United States — along with the regions of the world that have been hit hardest by the global epidemic — has made significant progress in slowing the spread of the virus and preventing new infections. But there’s more work to be done. Here are five facts you should know about the state of HIV/AIDS in America today:
1. One out of five Americans doesn’t know their HIV status. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), nearly 1.2 million Americans are HIV-positive — but about 20 percent of those people don’t know they have the virus. The CDC has continually emphasized regular HIV testing as the most important line of defense against the epidemic, since the virus can’t be effectively contained if people don’t know they’re HIV-positive. Fortunately, getting tested has been made easier by some recent advances. Last year, the FDA approved the first over-the-counter test that can be taken at home. And on last year’s National Testing Day, the CDC launched an initiative to bring more resources to more low-income areas by allowing some people to get tested in their local pharmacy.
2. HIV testing is covered under Obamacare. Thanks to the health reform law, Americans can also get tested for HIV as part of their regular preventative care during a check-up at their doctor’s office. Obamacare requires insurers to cover the services recommended by a panel of health experts on the U.S. Preventative Task Force — and, since the government-backed panel recently endorsed regular HIV screening for Americans between the ages of 15 and 65, insurance plans will need to follow suit. Patients will now be regularly screened for the virus, just like doctors routinely check their blood pressure or cholesterol levels.
3. Young Americans are less likely to get tested and treated for HIV. New rates of HIV infection are most highly concentrated among young people between the ages of 13 and 24. But that age group isn’t getting regularly tested for the virus. According to the CDC, just a third of Americans between 17 and 24 years old got tested for HIV in 2010, and only 13 percent of high school students were tested in 2011. Predictably, that age group has no idea what their status is — half of the Americans under 24 who are infected with HIV don’t know it — and is less likely to seek out the treatment they need.
4. We’ve made big strides to combat HIV infections, but progress is still stratified by race, class, and sexual orientation. With continued advances in HIV treatment, deaths from HIV/AIDS have declined rapidly in the United States since the early 1990s, and new infections are stabilizing. But those gains aren’t advancing equally across different demographics. African-Americans continue to bear the biggest burden of the HIV epidemic. Compared to white Americans, black Americans are eight times more likely to be HIV-positive and ten times more likely to die from the disease. Americans living below the poverty line are six times more likely to be HIV-positive than the national average rate of infection. And HIV infections continue to disproportionately impact the LGBT community, as men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for nearly two-thirds of all new cases in 2010.
5. Many Americans still aren’t learning about HIV in school. Just 20 states across the country have education requirements that mandate both sex education and HIV education in public schools. Thanks to lax sexual health requirements, many high schoolers aren’t learning about HIV in school — particularly in the South, where HIV rates are the highest and where a pervasive stigma surrounding the virus (and homosexuality) prevents many youth from getting the resources they need.