June 27th marked National HIV Testing Day, an annual call to get tested and a reminder that there are more ways than ever to get an HIV test. Testing is available at local clinics, from your health care provider, at home, or from a local organization. For DC residents, The Women’s Collective (TWC) fills a need in the community by offering testing that is fast, free, confidential, and easily accessible to people who need it most.
About 1.1 million people in the United States have HIV, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it (CDC, 2017). The District leads the nation in the rate of HIV infection, with the chance of a person ever being infected with HIV in their lifetime at 1-in-13 in the District, compared to Maryland, where 1-in-49 residents have a chance of being diagnosed HIV-positive. We are lucky to live in a world where HIV care management exists. If you do test positive, you can still live a long, productive, and fulfilling life.
The Women’s Collective promotes HIV testing. But the reality is it is testing with the goal of identifying new positives…and that means one more woman living with HIV. Enter the paradox of HIV testing.
Hesitant to get tested? Here’s why you should.
Knowing your HIV status is important for your health. If you are living with HIV, you should start treatment as soon as possible. HIV medicine can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting the virus to others if you take it the right way every day. And if you’re HIV-negative, you can take steps to prevent HIV. It’s important to get an HIV test at least once a year and more often than that, depending on your risk behavior and how much you may be coming into contact with HIV (potentially every 3 to 6 months). The Women’s Collective provides prevention recommendations and care management tailored to each individual’s specific risk and needs.
During our testing events for National HIV Testing Day, TWC staff spoke to several women about their motivation for getting tested and their testing experience. Here’s some common reasons:
- Worry their partners may be engaging in high-risk behaviors. Several women said that they wanted to get tested because although their own risk behaviors were low, they weren’t confident in their partner’s’ behavior. For example, they were concerned their partner may have other partners. These women knew health and wellbeing was in the hands of just one person– themselves– so they took the test to put themselves first.
- Concern about HIV contraction from sharing needles. Heroin drug users, who reflect the epidemic in the District, are at a higher risk for contracting HIV because of needle contamination. Several women who got tested were heroin users, and knew this was one way to reduce their harm. If you do use, be sure to get tested regularly and avoid sharing needles. DC-based agency, HIPS, offers free, clean syringes.
- It’s quick and easy. TWC has an Outreach Team that goes out into the community and “pops up” for convenient testing via its mobile van. The testing van visits different locations throughout the city, so you don’t have to worry about traveling somewhere to get tested, or scheduling it. Testers found the new HIV rapid testing to be quicker and easier than they expected it to be!
Share your story
Do you have an experience with getting tested for HIV you want to share? What you share may inspire other women to take that last step to putting themselves first and choosing health and wellness.
- What motivated you to get tested?
- What obstacles and fears did you have to overcome to take the test?
- How was your testing experience with TWC?
- What would you say to someone who was considering taking the test, but unsure?