National HIV Testing Day took place on June 27, 2008 with the goal of raising awareness and saving lives. Thanks to a health center pilot project, people are getting tested who haven’t been tested before. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) launched a pilot project two years ago in response to new early screening guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The project makes HIV screening part of routine primary care as part an aggressive clinical strategy to reach out to populations who may be unaware they have the disease or are at risk for developing it. CDC estimates that 180,000 to 280,000 people nationwide are HIV-positive but are unaware of their status. HIV counseling and testing enables people with HIV to take steps to protect their own health and that of their partners, and helps people who test negative get the information they need to stay uninfected. “We live in this community,” said executive director Aurelia Jones-Taylor, Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center, Clarksdale, MS, one of the health centers in the project. “We know that this disease is not about someone else – it’s about our families and our neighbors. It’s about us.”
Data from the health center project reveals significant progress; a majority of the health center patients tested had never received the test before, and only 19 percent said they had been tested three or more times.
“The centerpiece of any serious effort to combat HIV and AIDS begins with an early diagnosis and early intervention,” said Tom Curtin, MD, Chief Medical Officer at NACHC. “We embrace the CDC recommendations because they remove a key barrier to HIV screening by simplifying the process and making it routine for patients and clinicians. More lives are being saved because health centers will be better armed to find new infections and prevent transmission of the disease.”