NEWBURGH - This year marks the 19th annual National HIV Testing Day, a time to promote one of our best tools for HIV prevention.
There are still far too many people who don’t know they have HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). More than one million people are living with HIV in the United States today, but one in five of these people don’t know they are infected.
That’s why Jackie Perez and Melinda Pokela, along with their committee, took two months to plan and organize this year’s testing event at 280 Broadway in Newburgh, NY.
In April 2013, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released HIV testing recommendations that everyone aged 15 to 65 should be screened for HIV infection; teens younger than age 15 and adults older than 65 years of age also should be screened if they are at an increased risk for HIV infection; and all pregnant women, including women in labor who do not know if they are infected with HIV, should be screened for HIV infection. CDC recommends an HIV test once a year for people at increased risk - such as gay and bisexual men, people who inject drugs, or people with multiple sex partners. CDC data suggests that sexually active gay and bisexual men might benefit from more frequent testing (e.g., every 3 to 6 months). Regular testing allows people who have HIV to know their status, get life-saving treatment and care, and prevent HIV transmission to others.
Melinda Pokela, of Hudson Valley Community Service Inc. (HVCS) and one of the event organizers, said, "The point of day is to have everyone come out, get tested, know their status and have fun while doing it."
When you know your status, you can take care of yourself. If you find out that you are infected with HIV (if you test positive), you can seek medical care and get treatment, which helps people with HIV live longer, healthier lives and also lowers the chances of passing HIV to others.
If you don’t have HIV (if you test negative), take steps to stay negative. Remember that if you have unprotected sex or share needles for drug use after your test, you need to get tested again to make sure you are still HIV-negative. Your HIV test result "expires" every time you have risky sex or share needles or related works.
Anthony Accomando, of HVCS says knowing your HIV status is empowering. When you know your status, you can take care of yourself.
According to Accomando, HVCS reaches about 25,000 people throughout the Hudson Valley each year. "We serve over 6,000 people in the Hudson Valley living with HIV/AIDS. We also do a number of efforts in the area of education and prevention to make sure we see a decrease in those numbers."
Those attending the HIV Testing Day event on the plaza at 280 Broadway were offered a free HIV test performed by Planned Parenthood Mid Hudson Valley and Project Reach Out.
"We want to get away from the stigma of getting tested for HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately so many people are afraid to get tested and it really causes much more harm to not know," Accomando concluded.