Today is the tenth annual National HIV Testing Day and with an estimated 250,000 Americans currently unaware that they are HIV-positive, according to a national AIDS organization, Americans are urged to get a free HIV test.
Sponsored by the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), the annual campaign was produced to raise awareness about the importance of HIV testing. Leaders f rom the business, faith and entertainment communities are showing support by spreading the word and thousands of sites are offering free and confidential testing across the United States.
"About one-fourth of the more than 1 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS don't even know they're infected," said the Rev. Daniel Lee, senior pastor of Korean Bethel Presbyterian Church of Chicago, according to a news release. "That means a quarter of a million individuals can unknowingly pass the virus to other people that they care about."
Twenty-five years have passed since the first reported cases of HIV/AIDS. According to the latest UNAIDS report, an estimated 38.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2005, an estimated 4.1 million became newly infected with HIV and an estimated 2.8 million lost their lives to AIDS.
In the United States, 850,000 to 950,000 people are living with HIV, reported the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and approximately 180,000 to 280,000 do not know they're infected.
"Testing for HIV is the only way we can ensure that individuals carrying the disease know they are infected," said Dr. Gary Puckrein, executive director of the National Minority Health Month Foundation. "It is critical that individuals are tested and know their status so they can stop unknowingly spreading the disease and begin receiving treatment."
Puckrein and U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, M.D., (R-OK) have called for HIV testing to be included in routine medical care and that a testing component be included in the Ryan White CARE Act.
Women are the fastest-growing population of those newly infected and African Americans and Latinos make up large percentages of those living with the disease.
"Getting tested can literally mean the difference between life and death," said Native American artist Dana Tiger. "And it's not just your life that you could save - but the lives of those you love. By supporting National HIV Testing Day, NHAP hopes to remind everyone that knowledge is power - and that, together, we can fight HIV and win."
International activist and educator for World Vision's HIV/AIDS Hope Initiative Princess Kasune Zulu has been HIV-positive since 1997 and detailed her struggles in seeing the disease take both her parents, leaving her to care for her three younger siblings.
"Not only am I HIV-positive but I have known what it is to see my own parents die of AIDS and to care for them before they died," she said. "I carried my father many times over 10 kilometers on my back and my father was over 60 years. And I saw them change from healthy people to dying people."
Zulu has dedicated her life to the global AIDS fight since learning of her HIV status. She was recently seen at World Vision's AIDS Experience at Grand Central Terminal in New York where hundreds walked through the replica of an African village as one of four AIDS-infected orphans.
"I have lived it (the AIDS Experience)," said Zulu.
For more information on National HIV Testing resources and test sites, visit www.hivtest.org.