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Recognizing National HIV Testing Day and the Benefits of HIV Testing and Knowing Your Status

by Rick Haverkate, IHS National HIV/AIDS & HepC Program Coordinator

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 Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  should get tested more often.

The IHS, a primary partner in Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving , 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 Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  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 Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving .

Early detection and linkage to care may be helping. Recent CDC data Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  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 Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving , IHS and our partners at the Southern Plains Tribal Health Board Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  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.

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Rick Haverkate, IHS National HIV/AIDS & HepC Program Coordinator

Rick Haverkate is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. His 30-year public health career has been focused entirely on Indigenous peoples of North America in roles including community health educator, public health advisor, and director of public health at the tribal, state, and national levels. Rick currently serves as the IHS National HIV/AIDS & HepC Program coordinator. He earned his MPH from the University of Hawaii-Manoa.