Americans across the country are being urged to get tested for HIV today on National HIV testing day.
As many as 280,000 people in the United States are estimated to have HIV and not know it, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So the message of the 13th annual HIV testing campaign is "Take the Test, Take Control."
"[T]here's such a focus on testing today because if you get people into treatment [early], it becomes just a chronic illness," said Dr. Larry Hitzman, medical director of Village Care of New York, on Fox News Channel. "It's when people wait too long that we have the problems."
Village Care of New York and thousands of local health departments, HIV testing sites, and AIDS service providers across the country opened their doors Wednesday to free, confidential HIV testing and to resources through health fairs and other special events.
Lambda Legal along with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Center for HIV Law and Policy and other HIV organizations launched a broadly-endorsed set of guiding principles for HIV testing in honor of National HIV testing day.
"As a Colombian-American living with HIV, I know only too well that testing is about much more than just the results and must include meaningful coordination with prevention, care, and support services, especially for those who receive an HIV diagnosis," said David Ernesto Munar, vice president of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
This year's HIV testing campaign comes as a growing number of churches and Christian leaders have raised the platform on the AIDS crisis in America and around the world. While AIDS is considered by many as the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, the issue had seldom reached the pews or the pulpit because of the stigma largely attached to the disease.
Today, churches, including Pastor Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., are forming ministries to care for those who are affected by HIV/AIDS and more are offering free HIV testing right on their church campuses.
"At Saddleback Church, HIV is becoming a 'signature issue,'" stated Warren. "It's not just one of 150 other ministries, but it's one of just a few issues that distinguish our church."
Warren has been hosting a Global Summit on AIDS and the Church each year at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., for the past two years. At the summit last December, he and presidential candidates Barack Obama and Sam Brownback were publicly tested for HIV. Testing was also offered to conference attendants.
The stigma is also being reduced in black churches where AIDS is largely viewed as taboo. Bishop T.D. Jakes, who leads The Potter's House in Dallas, one of the nation's largest churches, launched a comprehensive campaign last year called "It's Time to Step Up!" at the national and international levels to help educate the community about the pandemic and halt the spread of the disease. And the nation's largest African American religious organization, the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., just came out of their annual congress in St. Louis last week in which they held their first ever Annual HIV/AIDS Conference.
The CDC and Village Care's Hitzman recommend that everybody from the ages of 16 to 65 get tested for HIV at least once in their life. For those who are around people that may be exposed or at higher risk, Hitzman suggests testing at least every six months to a year.