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June 29, 2009 at 11:53 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

HIV Testing and the Global Society

By Katie from SLN More Blogs by This Author

The reality of HIV and AIDS has been sinking in since the 1980s. You'd think that by now, getting tested soon and regularly would be a nationwide standard. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case. Two recent studies (both featured in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report's National HIV Testing Day issue) analyzing the data from 34 American states suggest that many people are waiting to get tested until the HIV infection has advanced, and fewer treatment options are available. According to these two studies, nearly half of those diagnosed as HIV positive between 1996 and 2005 received an AIDS diagnosis within three years. Additionally, among high school students, only 22.3 percent of those who were sexually active were tested for HIV in 2007.

"Testing in Namibia has increased with the advent of rapid testing - a process in which people are tested and given results within 20 minutes."

More likely to hold off on testing, and thereby receive an AIDS diagnosis within three years, are racial minorities and those getting the HIV diagnosis later in life. However, among high schoolers, black, female, sexually active seniors demonstrate the highest testing rate at 49.4 percent. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are responding with an emphasis on the importance of educational efforts and routine and risk based HIV testing. The studies themselves conclude by saying that health care providers should consider testing all patients over the age of 13, whether or not they display any worry or risk factors, since people of that age do not often volunteer their sexual information or concerns.

A focus of increased education and improved services for the prevention of HIV and AIDS is the continent of Africa. The Global Fund - an organization set up to combat AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria around the world - recently told the story of a couple in Namibia who got tested for the first time in their 60s. Happily, both tests came back negative, and the couple can continue their relationship in the confidence that they are healthy. Testing in Namibia has increased with the advent of rapid testing - a process in which people are tested and given results within 20 minutes. Guidance is available to those Namibians looking for support after receiving their results. The Global fund works with the Ministry of Health and faith-based and community organizations to promote these services. The most common method of testing for HIV actually tests for the antibodies that are trying to fight off the virus. Antibodies are the chemicals in the immune system that recognize and target invading bacteria and viruses. The test is performed on a patient's blood, urine, saliva, or oral fluid. The tests can take anywhere from 15 minutes to a few days. Wherever in the world you are, the best HIV prevention is a safe lifestyle. Know your sexual partner, and maintain an open communication about both of your sexual health and history. Never use a needle that may have been in contact with another person, and be certain of the sanitation of any location that uses needles. This includes health establishments, piercing/tattoo parlors, and blood/plasma donation centers. Always use a condom if you have any uncertainty about your sexual partner. The CDC provides a list of who should get tested for what sexually transmitted diseases at hivtest.org. The following are only a few of the suggestions they make: Chlamydia Testing - annually or as recommended by a doctor:

  • Sexually active women under the age of 26
  • Sexually active men (sleeping with women or other men) and women not in long-term, mutually monogamous relationships
  • Pregnant women

HIV Testing - annually

  • Sexually active men (sleeping with women or other men) and women not in long-term, mutually monogamous relationships
  • Pregnant women
  • All men who sleep with men

Hepatitis Vaccination

  • Sexually active men (sleeping with women or other men) and women not in long-term, mutually monogamous relationships (A and B)
  • Pregnant women (B and C)
  • All men who sleep with men (A and B)

In reality, everyone who has ever been sexually active or exposed to a needle should get tested. But the chances of this happening anytime soon are slim. In the meantime, it is up to each and every individual to take responsibility for their own body, and take the necessary steps to prevent the spread of HIV infection.

Sources:

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_86114.html

http://www.theglobalfund.org/en/savinglives/namibia/hiv7/

http://www.hivtest.org/faq.cfm#stdtest

Photo Credit: Wheeler Cowperthwaite

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