WASHINGTON – Three years ago,Tom Donohue went to his doctor for routine tests,including an HIV test,although he had no indication he was sick.
But instead getting his results in the mail or a quick phone call,the doctor asked him to come back. He had bad news – Donohue was HIV positive.
Donohue,now 27,said he still has no symptoms.
“I just started medication a week ago,only more as a precaution,” he said. “I am very healthy,and I reflect back three years ago when I found out I was positive and understand that for the last three years I could potentially be putting people at risk if I had not been tested.”
Donohue,of State College,Pa.,is the founder and executive director of Who's Positive,an organization that strives to reduce HIV transmission through the personal stories of HIV-positive people. He is here to speak at National HIV Testing Day on Tuesday.
Eighteen mayors from across the country have invited residents to get tested on this day,including D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams,Houston Mayor Bill White,San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin.
Thousands of organizations and clinics nationwide will organize testing and counseling efforts,many for free.
“HIV testing is expensive for some people if it's not free. If it's free,it's another step to get everyone to know their HIV status,” said June Pollydore,coordinator of National HIV Testing Day events at the Women's Collective in Washington.
On Tuesday,Pollydore said the organization will have free,rapid HIV testing,which gives results in 20 minutes. Also available as incentives will be counseling,staff presentations and grab bags of toiletries and free chicken meals.
National HIV Testing Day was launched in 1995 by the National Association of People with AIDS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations hoping to curb the pandemic.
In the U.S.,the CDC estimates that a million people are living with HIV and an estimated 25 percent do not know they are infected.
Miguel Aguero,coordinator of National HIV Testing Day,said these numbers should inspire people to be tested.
“Once you know your status,if you are HIV negative,you will know what to do to remain negative,and,if you are tested and you are positive you will know that you will have to seek medical treatment,” said Aguero.
Aguero,40,has worked with NAPWA for two years. He said people should use National HIV Testing Day as an excuse to be tested and to overcome any stigma associated with HIV testing.
A 2004 Kaiser Family Foundation study found about three in every 10 people said they would be very concerned that people would think less of them if they found out they were tested for HIV. By 2006,that number had dropped to about one-fifth.
“The troubling part about getting tested for HIV,in general,is that someone going in for an HIV test suggests that they may be positive. The testing initiatives launched in the next weeks will help against that,” Donohue said.
He was referring to the District of Columbia's six-month campaign to test all residents ages 14 to 84 for HIV. Experts say the effort is unprecedented.
Regan Hofmann recently disclosed her status as a woman with HIV after years of writing anonymously for the magazine POZ,which covers HIV issues. At a National HIV Testing Day press conference Monday,she said she waited years for the stigma surrounding the virus to subside,and when it didn't she decided to share her story.
Hofmann,named POZ editor-in-chief earlier this year,said that,because she was tested and diagnosed early – 10 years ago – she has been able to live longer.
“The thing about being tested,it's like any other health concern. If you know your status early,you have a better chance of survival,and of getting treatment,” she said. “What happens with a lot of people is they find out way down the road,when they have an opportunistic infection,so the importance of early testing is huge. ”
For more information on testing centers participating in National HIV Testing Day across the country,visit http://www.hivtest.org