Many of you may have seen advertisements for National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), happening this Saturday, June 27th. The observance day, established by the CDC in 1995, promotes voluntary HIV counseling and testing and raises awareness of the significant number of undiagnosed HIV-positive individuals not receiving care who are responsible for up to 75% of the new HIV infections transmitted each year. An estimated 20% of all HIV positive individuals in the United States are unaware of their HIV status; a figure that is closer to 50% in the District of Columbia. As such, knowing one's HIV status is one of the most powerful tools for HIV prevention.
The local gay, bisexual and transgender community is still disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. According to the recently updated DC HIV/AIDS 2008 Surveillance Report, men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for more than 50% of the HIV-positive individuals living in the District of Columbia through 2007. However, because the District is now in the midst of a "severe and generalized epidemic," all groups are experiencing markedly higher risk for HIV infection and transmission.
Since the HIV epidemic has now become a community-wide problem, the local Gay/Bi/Trans HIV Prevention Working Group of the DC Center is seeking a community-wide solution by bringing together organizations that represent the spectrum of risk populations in the District to encourage everyone to get tested for HIV - the first critical step in stemming its spread.
Because the epidemic is so severe in DC, the behaviors you engage in are no longer the primary determinants of your risk of infection, as is the case with lower-level, concentrated epidemics. Rather, in the District, where you live and the sexual networks of which you're a part have a much more significant role in your risk than elsewhere, revealing that all of us - from an impoverished African-American women in Ward 8 to an affluent white gay man in Ward 2 - are truly in this together.
Therefore, a city-wide collaboration coordinated by the HIV Working Group to raise awareness for NHTD will happen this Friday, June 26th from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. At this media and testing event, five-to-ten local HIV prevention organizations that provide mobile and remote HIV counseling, testing and referral services (CTRS) will come together to announce their cooperative effort to increase HIV testing at locations throughout the city on Saturday, June 27th and beyond.
The Friday event will be located downtown at the old Convention Center site ("City-Center" parking lot) - along the Art Walk, near the intersection of H and 10th streets, NW. It will bring together representatives from numerous HIV prevention groups, including Andromeda Transcultural Health, Carl Vogel Center, La Clinica del Pueblo, Community Education Group, Don't?Guess?Test!, PreventionWorks!, Whitman-Walker Clinic, and others, as well as local political officials to address the mounting HIV crisis among District residents.
Mobile HIV testing units from five-to-ten representative organizations will also be present to provide CTRS. It is anticipated that organizational heads and political officials will address the public and media between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.; however, this timeframe may change to accommodate individual schedules.
Then on Saturday, there will be at least one mobile unit offering CTRS located in each of the District's eight wards.
Additionally, each of the participating organizations will provide CTRS at their home locations to maximize the geographic coverage of testing sites that day. A final list of testing locations will be advertised later this week and posted on the HIV Prevention Working Group's website.
Other organizations and communities across the country will be observing NHTD and holding local events this week. Please raise awareness of the importance of HIV testing in your community and encourage friends, family and community leaders to get tested on Saturday, June 27th. Find NHTD events and testing sites in your area.