One in Five: AIDS Pandemic Can be Curtailed by Early Testing

HIV/AIDS is a pandemic that has no prejudices, altering the lives of over one million Americans regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or economic background. More than 18,000 people in our country die from HIV/AIDS every year. These deaths include countless victims who were not even aware of their condition. Lives could have been saved had they been tested and then treated.

On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported five cases of a rare form of pneumonia. The illness was said to weaken the immune system and could potentially become a full-blown epidemic. As the story of the first HIV/AIDS cases began to spread, it carried a heavy stigma. Within the first few years, the disease muffled the voices of those who were infected with the deadly virus to the point where being identified as a HIV/AIDS victim was considered taboo. Thirty years later, over 600,000 Americans have died from the disease. America has come a long way in addressing the issue, but we have much more to do to save lives.

Though we can individually address the problem of HIV/AIDS, we must collectively examine viable solutions to eradicate the disease. Like polio and other diseases that we have eliminated, we can effectively slow and diminish the spread of HIV/AIDS. Knowing your status is the first step in battling this adversity. As Members of Congress, we have proposed swift legislation in our effort to encourage prevention and treatment.

Congressman Charles B. Rangel of New York is spearheading the National Black Clergy for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS bill, which authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to make grants to community-based and faith-based organizations to provide outreach, prevention, and testing services to African American communities. Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee of Texas, a cosponsor of the bill, has strongly voiced her support for its passage in order to alleviate the rise of HIV/AIDS within minority groups.

Moreover, Florida Congressman Alcee L. Hastings has introduced the Increasing Access to Voluntary Screening for HIV/AIDS and STIs Act of 2011 to help reduce the spread and morbidities associated with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. Among other things, it requires Medicaid, a health program providing medical financial assistance for low-income families, to cover voluntary screening for HIV/AIDS and other STIs as a mandatory service for all individuals 13 and older. We are trying to educate everyone in America that, beyond preventive measures, getting tested remains key to reducing the incidence and transmission of this disease in our communities.

Our constituents are in great jeopardy when it comes to the spread and infection rate of HIV/AIDS. According to the CDC, New York, Florida and Texas were ranked first, second and fourth, respectively, in 2009 for most of the 35,000 HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed. This is unacceptable. The CDC also reports that African-Americans are at the highest risk for HIV/AIDS contraction in the nation, accounting for a shocking 46 percent of diagnoses in the United States. The ratio for black men compared to white men is 8:1. The disproportionate ratio skyrockets to 23:1 for their female counterparts.

One in five Americans living with HIV/AIDS does not know he or she needs treatment, nor is aware of his or her infection. That could be your friend, your spouse, a colleague, a neighbor, and anyone else. Without taking the initial step of getting tested, people are putting themselves and others at risk. There is no need to lose another precious life because preventive measures were not taken.

With so many free resources available, there is no longer any excuse not to get tested. One of the newest and most popular methods is the new Rapid HIV testing which allows instant results to be delivered to patients on the spot. This method, as well as the traditional doctor’s check-up, is available at community health centers, hospitals, private physician’s offices and other medical care settings. We encourage everyone to get tested and know his or her status. It is not a case of shame but rather a push towards progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

June 27th is National HIV Testing Day. Prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Get tested today.

Reps. Charlie Rangel, D- New York, Shiela Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Alcee Hastings, D-Florida, are avid proponents of HIV/AIDS testing.

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