By Denise Royal
HIV can affect anyone in South Florida, regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, or age.
However, HIV continues to disproportionately impact historically underserved communities, including Black/African American, Latino, and LGBT communities because of certain risk factors. That’s why medical experts urge everyone to make HIV testing part of their routine health screening.
“HIV testing is a benefit for anyone regardless of age,” said Drexel Shaw, CVS Health National HIV Liaison. “As long as someone is sexually active, they can benefit from getting an HIV test.”
In 2020, Florida had the third-highest rate of new HIV diagnoses of any state. The 2020 report from the Florida Department of Health finds the number of new HIV diagnoses over the past five years went down, except among two age groups: people 30 to 39 years old (8% increase) and those 50 and older (7% increase).
“Specific populations and communities that are greatly affected by HIV should be tested a lot more frequently,” Shaw said. “Health care providers should be open to testing individuals for HIV. An HIV test is very similar to checking someone’s blood sugar or checking for hypertension.”
Testing is critically important to keep HIV numbers down. In 2019, 4,584 people in Florida learned they had HIV. At the end of that year, 116,689 Floridians were living with HIV. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that an additional 18,200 Floridians were living with HIV but unaware of it. Almost 40% of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who do not know they have the virus.
People who are tested and learn they do not have HIV can make informed decisions to protect themselves, including the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP.) It is highly effective in preventing HIV.
During the pandemic, the number of HIV tests by community-based organizations dropped by 44% compared to the previous year, according to a CDC study.
This year, getting tested is easy, convenient, and free. Visit https://gettested.cdc.gov/ for locations. CVS MinuteClinic is among the entities offering free tests from June 29 to July 13. Visit www.cvshealthcare.com/campaign/end-hiv-miami to download a voucher to bring with you to your appointment.
“We are focused on providing no-cost tests to individuals ages 18 or older as part of our initiative, and so with this partnership with Gilead Sciences, CVS MinuteClinic health hubs have the ability to test individuals for HIV through June 29 through July 13,” said Shaw. “So the benefit is you don’t need health insurance to get a voucher for this particular program. This voucher allows an individual to get tested at no cost, as well as a follow-up visit at no cost.”
MinuteClinic tests are conducted in private rooms, addressing concerns about stigma and confidentiality.
Free HIV tests are also available at community clinics around South Florida, including Walgreens, which provides confidential, rapid results, along with a $10 Subway gift card. To find a convenient location near you, visit https://knowyourhivstatus.com.
Everyone who is sexually active should get tested for HIV at least once. Knowing your HIV status by getting tested is an act of self-care. It is the first step in engaging in prevention or treatment to live a long, healthy life.