Sebelius: HIV Testing Necessary to 'Make Good Decisions About Your Health'

Susan Jones | June 27, 2013 | 9:25am EDT
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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. ( Starr)

( - Thursday is the 19th annual "National HIV Testing Day," and Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is urging everyone to be tested for the preventable disease that is spread by contact with body fluids, mainly through sex, and especially among homosexual men.

"HIV testing is so important because it gives you the information you need to make good decisions about your health," Sebelius said in her announcement. "If you test negative, you can take steps to stay that way (which may include periodic testing if you engage in high-risk behaviors)."

Notably, Sebelius said nothing about avoiding "high-risk behaviors" in the first place.

"If you have HIV, there are medications that will help you stay healthy and live longer," the announcement continued. "These medications—known as antiretroviral therapy (ART)--also make it significantly less likely that you might pass the virus to someone else."

Sebelius noted that nearly three out of every four people living with HIV in the U.S. do not successfully navigate the stages of care. Barriers to sticking with antiretroviral therapy include the cost, as well as the effort involved in taking multiple drugs at exact times each day. Some patients suffer debilitating side effects.

"Identifying and reducing the obstacles along that path are the keys to achieving the goals of the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy and a major focus of our work,” Sebelius said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends that all Americans ages 13 to 64 be screened for HIV as a routine part of their medical care. The Affordable Care Act already has expanded access to "free HIV screening" for many people; and Sebelius said for people already infected, the law will "help to ensure they get the care and treatment they need."

According to HHS, since the mid-1990s, the number of people who are diagnosed with HIV each year has remained relatively stable at about 50,000.

Certain groups, including African Americans, Latinos, and gay and bisexual men of all races/ethnicities, continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, HHS says.

"We are particularly concerned by a significant increase in new infections among young gay and bisexual men," Sebelius said. "Between 2008-2010, this group of young men (ages 13-24) had a 22 percent increase in new infections—and young black men in that group now account for more new HIV infections than any other subgroup by race/ethnicity, age, and sex." Sebelius called that news "deeply troubling."

On the other hand, new HIV infections among African American women declined by 21 percent between 2008 and 2010.

Sebelius said time will tell if that encouraging trend continues. "In the meantime, we will continue working to eliminate the health disparities that affect racial/ethnic and other minorities and increase their risk for HIV infection."

The theme of this year’s  national AIDS day is “Take the Test. Take Control.”

In a statement released Thursday, President Obama said there should be "no shame or stigma associated with knowing your (HIV) status." He says that's why he and Michelle were tested for HIV on a trip to Africa in 2006.

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