Routine HIV testing has long been seen as the starting point to stopping the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, and AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, has worked tirelessly toward the goal of “testing millions” and linking those who test positive for HIV to care. In 2012, with AHF-supported clinics and healthcare centers operating in 28 countries on four continents in conjunction with important partnerships with local non-government organizations (NGOs) and health ministries, the Foundation has tested more than one million individuals around the world in a single year.
Through testing events and initiatives in Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, and the North America, AHF tested 1,061,865 people. Of those people, 43,981 tested positive for HIV and were immediately linked to treatment and care. This is an ambitious leap from previous years’ testing totals — 699,512 people were tested in 2011, and 513,768 learned their status in 2010 — which is indicative of the emphasis AHF has placed on testing as the gateway to treatment and lifesaving knowledge about protecting oneself and one’s partners.
“Wherever we do testing the world over, AHF has always found the same truth: People want to take care of themselves, their families and their partners. When we offer free HIV tests to the community in a convenient and accessible way—whether in South Florida or South Africa–community members come forward because they know how urgent to get tested,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “We will continue to provide easy access to accurate, speedy testing around the world so millions more can know their status – because it is the first step in breaking the chain of infection and halting the epidemic.”
Forty-nine percent of those who got tested through AHF in 2012 were women, nearly matching the number of men who accounted for the other 51% of those tested. Of those tested, a higher rate of HIV-positivity was found in the women, who accounted for 54% of the total. Men accounted for 46% of the HIV-positive results. The majorities of both the people getting tested and those testing positive for HIV fell within the age range of 21-30 years old.
Uganda saw the largest number of people being tested in 2012 with nearly 300,000 people learning their HIV status, where AHF opened its newest healthcare center outside of the U.S. in January 2013. Of those people, 5.08% learned they were positive for HIV and were linked to care. The highest rates of positivity were found in Zambia (10.48% of those tested), Swaziland (13.13% of testers), and South Africa, where 17.34% of the people who took an HIV test through AHF tested positive for the virus. South Africa carries the largest global AIDS burden with approximately 5.6 million people living with HIV in the country. Despite this clear need for accessible antiretroviral treatment (ART), funding cuts to the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2012 have threatened the operation of at least two clinics there.
With year-round global testing in cities scattered from Russia to Rwanda and Kathmandu to Mexico City, AHF is on track to test more than 1.5 million people in 2013. Knowing one’s HIV status allows those who are living with the virus to become aware of it as early as possible and begin lifesaving medical treatment at the point in the disease where the medication would have its most potent effect. Additionally, being aware of one’s status allows for open and honest dialogue between sexual partners to minimize the risk of passing HIV unwittingly. Most importantly, because AHF has clinicians and counselors directly linked to their testing campaigns around the world, people who do learn that they are HIV-positive will experience the hope that access to treatment brings. They are immediately offered vital emotional counseling and are educated right away about their treatment options and how to live a full life with this manageable condition. Because AHF supports clinics in 28 countries on four continents, clients are given options that will make it easy for them to stay on their treatment regimen, which is highly important in controlling HIV and living well.