June 27 is National HIV Testing Day. On this day, we unite with partners across the country to raise awareness about the importance of HIV testing and the early diagnosis of HIV. The Indian Health Service recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 gets tested for HIV at least once as part of their routine health care. People at higher risk should get tested more often.
The IHS, a primary partner in Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. , encourages early diagnosis and early entry into treatment, two significant factors in eliminating the disease. Increasing the number of people who are aware of their HIV status is a critical objective in reaching this goal so that people living with HIV get linked to care and receive treatment that reduces illness and transmission of the virus.
When a person receives a diagnosis early and carefully follows their HIV treatment plan, they can achieve an undetectable level of HIV in their blood, which can mean a full and healthy life. Getting to an undetectable level of HIV also prevents sexual transmission of the virus to another person. To promote this message, we use the term U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis shows that about 80% of new HIV infections in the U.S. in 2016 were transmitted from the nearly 40% of people with HIV who either did not know they had HIV, or who had been diagnosed but were not receiving HIV care. The data underscores the impact of undiagnosed and untreated HIV and the critical need to expand HIV testing and treatment in the U.S.
For an HIV data update on American Indians and Alaska Natives, please watch this recent IHS video .
Early detection and linkage to care may be helping. Recent CDC data shows a 30% decline in HIV deaths among American Indians and Alaska Natives from 2014-2018. The new data indicates that the rate of deaths from HIV among American Indians and Alaska Natives is now below that of whites in the U.S. While national statistics can often undercount American Indians and Alaska Natives in the data, this decline is an encouraging trend.
However, challenges remain. All IHS facilities, especially larger hospitals, tend to see a plateau in HIV testing numbers. Testing in emergency rooms and urgent care facilities is possible but requires staffing and other resources that often are not available.
With resources from the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund , IHS and our partners at the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board offer free HIV self-test kits. Self-testing not only reduces some of the stigma, but helps normalize HIV testing and may reach the highest-risk individuals who aren’t being screened for HIV. HIV self-test kits also promote mutual partner testing, thus avoiding condomless sex between partners with different HIV status. To get a free rapid HIV self-test kit mailed to you, text the words “Native Test” to 55251.