One of the many great ideas that came out of this year's Netroots Connect LGBT Pre-Conference is a new digital initiative to encourage HIV testing in the United States.
The project is called "Test Me," and it encourages every American to be tested for HIV on June 27 (note: that's today!), which is National HIV Testing Day, and share their experience on social media under the hashtag #testme.
It was conceived by a group of activists including Todd Heywood, Teddy Partridge, Lisa Derrick, Gregory Varnum, and Brad Delaney. Said Partridge, "AIDS can be over in our lifetimes. But it's only getting bigger now, and we need to change its trajectory -- together and right now... Help us make this happen, please."
According to a press release from the group, studies show that the current cohort of 20-year-old men who have sex with men (MSM) has a 10% prevalence rate overall; African-American men in that group have a rate of 20%. If current trends continue, half of all men who have sex with men will be infected with HIV in 30 years. Among African-American men, that number jumps to 70%.
The CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans nationwide are infected with HIV, and 20% of those infected are unaware that they harbor the virus. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that when an HIV-infected person is unaware of their status, they are 3.5 times more likely to transmit the virus to others. A 2010 study of 21 U.S. cities found that one in five MSM was infected with HIV, and that a whopping 44% of them were unaware that they were living with the virus.
But as blogger and #TestMe collaborator Lisa Derrick notes, the need for HIV testing goes far beyond the MSM population.
"HIV has never gone away, yet a whole generation--gay, bi and straight-- is unaware of the consequences of infection. By participating in June 27th #TestMe National HIV Testing Day everyone, regardless of age or identification, can take the first step to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And in areas where HIV testing can carry a stigma, churches, labor unions and community groups getting tested can remove the stigma. Plus, let's face it: HIV can affect anyone--young, old, gay, straight or bi."
Even President Obama weighed in today with a statement about the importance of HIV testing:
Today is National HIV Testing Day, when we encourage people across the United States to get tested. Early detection and treatment for HIV saves lives, and yet over half of adults in the United States have never been tested. Nearly one in five people living with HIV in this country doesn't know his or her status. That delays treatment, increases the risk of transmission, and sets us back in our fight against the epidemic.
...[More] Americans still need to decide to take the test. We know from experience here at home and around the world that HIV testing opens the door to treatment, reduces the spread of the virus, and helps people lead longer, healthier lives.
So what are you waiting for? It's National HIV Testing Day! Click here to find an HIV testing site near you, get tested, and tweet about your experience under the hashtag #testme to share your story and raise awareness about HIV.
The #TestMe crew earlier this month at Netroots Nation. Click to embiggen.