June 27th is National HIV Testing Day, an annual occasion for learning about how and why to get tested for HIV and how to reduce our risk of getting and spreading it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that one in seven people in the U.S. with HIV don’t know they have it—and young people are the most likely to be unaware of their HIV status.
Ben Stearn, M.D., of Washington, D.C., is a doctor who specializes in HIV. He stresses the importance of getting tested: “Finding out (you are) HIV positive (can) result in early treatment, and early treatment maintains a full and healthy immune system.” Stearn says that if you discover you are HIV-positive, you should start treatment as soon as possible.
Getting tested is a way to take charge of your sexual health. As teens, we have the power to start lifelong habits to maintain good health. That’s why getting tested is a good choice for all sexually active teens. You can find a free testing center near you.
Aside from getting tested, it’s important to know the basic ways to prevent HIV. Using a condom the right way every time you have sex is crucial. People at a high risk of contracting HIV can also ask their doctors about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This is a medicine that reduces the chance of contracting HIV.
National HIV Testing Day reminds us to be aware of our risks and take control of our sexual health. It’s important to take steps to keep ourselves and our current and future partners healthy. Be sure to use protection correctly and don’t forget to get tested!
December 1st is World AIDS Day. This is a day to remember those around the globe who are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or have lost their lives to complications from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). HIV does not discriminate against sexual orientation, race or gender. Currently, there are approximately 36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV. It also doesn’t discriminate by age: a third of new HIV infections in the world are among those 15 to 24 years old, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
When AIDS was first diagnosed in United States, it was briefly called gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) by some. The U.S. government was slow to act and as a result many people died. Instead of waiting for the government to do more, a group of people in New York City created the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (or ACT UP, as it is more widely known) to advocate and lobby for those with HIV/AIDS. From this group came the Treatment Action Group (TAG), which successfully advocated for quicker development of new HIV treatments.
ACT UP is an important and inspiring example of advocacy making an impact. Today, ACT UP continues to advocate for those with HIV/AIDS around the world. In fact, this year marks their 30th anniversary! I didn’t know about ACT UP until two years ago, when I watched a documentary called How to Survive a Plague. After watching it, it became important to me to celebrate those in ACT UP for their actions and beliefs.
The fight to end the spread of HIV is still not over. Globally, one million people died from AIDS in 2016, and some still mistakenly associate HIV with a “gay lifestyle” because they do not know the range of behaviors that can transmit HIV regardless of your sexual orientation. However, with education, we can make strides in ending stigma and ignorance toward those with the virus.
This December 1st (and everyday), think about those who have lost their lives, but also think about those who have survived and those who have made great strides by advocating for a cure and treatment. There is hope that we can end AIDS.
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