HIV Prevention Education
There is a general lack of HIV education and prevention programs in many communities, including through schools, churches, media, family, and peers. Medical care providers still do not routinely test for HIV unless a person is pregnant or is known to be gay. Most people often have to ask to be tested.
Missed opportunities for HIV education or testing
I know of many women who have never been asked by their provider if they wanted to be tested for HIV. Women who ask for the test often don’t feel comfortable explaining why they want to be tested.
Fear of personal information being shared
Many youths, men, and women are often afraid to ask for HIV testing for fear of their sexual orientation or sexual practices being exposed or other confidentiality breaches. This renders medical provider visits a missed opportunity for both HIV education and testing.
Barriers that prevent youth from accessing testing
In rural areas where everyone knows everyone, people are reluctant to get tested or seek treatment for fear that someone at the local health department will out them as living with HIV which opens up to so many other questions about their behaviors. So people, particularly youth, might see in the media, “get tested” and they’re being really upfront about it. But, it’s not as easy to get tested.
Support networks make a difference
Depending on the type of parents that youths have, the people in their support network makes a difference. If youth have supportive parents, there will be fewer barriers to getting tested. However, when you have judgmental parents, it’s not easy for youth to just go to the doctor or a clinic and get tested. The message that people hear in the media only talking about getting tested but rarely talk about what happens after testing.
Opportunities for HIV testing and education
Approximately 250,000 people in the United States are currently living with undiagnosed HIV.1 People who are unaware of their serostatus cannot seek effective antiretroviral therapies that can improve their long-term prognosis and enhance their quality of life. We cannot decrease the number of new infections if people are unaware that they are living with HIV.
Increasing the number of people who get tested for HIV requires HIV education to communities and providers. The CDC guidelines recommend that health care providers adopt an “opt-out” approach when informing patents about the test. Rather than asking a patient if he or she would like to be tested for HIV, which requires an affirmative response on the patient’s part, the CDC recommends that providers inform the patients that absent dissent, he or she will be tested.1
Opt-out versus risk-based testing
This streamlined approach to HIV testing is intended to facilitate identifying people living with HIV who might not otherwise be tested, maybe because they do not perceive themselves to be at risk of HIV infection.
Under the existing risk-based testing paradigm, people are tested either because they have sought out testing on their own or because a health care provider has determined they are at risk of infection.
These barriers must be addressed
Much of the HIV education that people receive doesn’t address the barriers of HIV testing. There is not enough information about where to get tested or the availability of rapid testing. When testing requires people to return for their results, it thereby increases travel cost and exposure to potentially stigmatizing situations.
Do you live in the Southern US?