Despite challenges posed by COVID-19, local health departments are adopting strategies to promote HIV testing and linkage to care.
— Despite challenges posed by COVID-19, local health departments are adopting strategies to promote HIV testing and linkage to care —
Washington, DC, June 26, 2020 —The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), in advance of National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) (June 27), highlights the important role that local health departments play to increase access and utilization of HIV testing, support their community members living with the virus, and work towards ending the HIV epidemic.
Local health departments are uniquely positioned to engage with community partners and healthcare providers to ensure that HIV testing is available and that testing efforts are reaching priority populations, including communities of color, gay and bisexual men, transgender men and women, youth, and people who inject drugs.
Local health departments traditionally provide HIV testing at clinics and through community outreach efforts. This year, however, COVID-19 has forced many local health departments to suspend or reduce HIV testing and prevention services, as clinics have closed and staff have been reassigned from HIV-related activities to support the COVID-19-response. While the COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted traditional HIV services, local health departments are implementing innovative solutions to maintain key testing and treatment options via self -testing. These include using telehealth services and the provisions of free or low-cost self-testing options via mail. You can learn more about these programs here.
An estimated 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV. One in seven—or nearly 162,000 people—are unaware of their status, despite CDC recommending HIV testing for every person between the ages of 13-64. This year’s NHTD theme is the power of “Knowing” — knowing your HIV status, as well as knowing the new ways to take an HIV test now that facility-based services and in-person contact are limited by the coronavirus pandemic.
As outlined in the federal government’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, HIV testing is critical in diagnosing HIV, identifying acute infections, and referring to HIV treatment or prevention options such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily pill that is highly effective in preventing HIV acquisition. Ensuring that people know their HIV status is the first step in getting connected to HIV care and treatment for those who are HIV-positive. People with HIV who take medication as prescribed and maintain viral suppression are known to have improved health outcomes and reduce chance of transmission to others. To achieve the full benefits of HIV treatment and prevention options, HIV testing must be simple, accessible, and routine.
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The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) represents the nation’s nearly 3,000 local health departments. These city, county, metropolitan, district, and tribal departments work every day to protect and promote health and well-being for all people in their communities. For more information about NACCHO, please visit www.naccho.org