By: Yuritza Arroyo
To mark National HIV Testing Day on June 27, the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) is recommending that all adolescents and adults get tested for HIV as part of a regular self-care routine.
According to officials, this year’s theme for the national observance is “Take the Test & Take the Next Step.”
“In the era of Undetectable = Untransmittable, we can stop the spread of HIV; we just need everyone to do their part and test. People living with HIV today are able to live long and healthy lives thanks to public health and medical advances that can limit the spread and progression of the disease,” said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli.
“Whether taking a pill a day to prevent HIV or taking medication to manage your existing HIV infection, knowing your status is key to ending the HIV epidemic in New Jersey.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that individuals between the ages of 13 and 64 years be tested at least once, and those at higher risk should be tested at least once a year.
Routine screening allows for the identification of HIV before it becomes advanced HIV or AIDS, fosters earlier treatment when needed, reduces the risk of transmission, and reduces stigma around HIV and HIV treatment.
Healthcare providers should offer an HIV test as part of routine care.
In New Jersey last year, 35,382 free and confidential rapid HIV tests were administered at more than 100 locations, compared to 34,513 in 2021. Test results are available in 20 minutes.
Those who are HIV-negative and are at high risk are connected to a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) counselor as necessary, and those who are HIV-positive are connected to treatment. PrEP is a single pill that, when taken once daily, can reduce the risk of acquiring HIV from sex by 90 percent.
It is an important HIV prevention strategy in addition to testing.
NJDOH funds 38 agencies that can house up to four PrEP navigators depending on the needs of the community. In 2022, 1,115 new clients were enrolled in New Jersey’s PrEP program.
In 2022, 37,693 New Jersey residents were reported to be living with HIV. An estimated 1.2 Americans were living with HIV at the end of 2022, with 35,716 Americans receiving an HIV diagnosis in 2020.
It is estimated that 13 percent of people infected do not know their HIV status, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
For National HIV Testing Day this year, over 25 different testing events will be taking place across the state hosted by NJDOH-funded agencies.
These events all offer free rapid HIV testing to any individual in attendance and aim to connect with local communities.
Some events, such as the HIV Testing Day Event hosted by EDGE New Jersey at Walmart in North Brunswick, offer music, food, prizes, and giveaways for those who come to get tested.
Many community-based organizations are partnering with major companies, such as Walmart or Walgreens, to host these events, and local businesses such as Georgie’s Bar in Asbury Park where the Visiting Nurses Association of Central Jersey will be providing testing between 8 pm and midnight.
Information on testing and other services also can be found here.
For National HIV Testing Day, June 27, Walgreens and Greater Than HIV, a public information initiative of KFF, along with hundreds of health departments and community organizations, are providing FREE HIV testing, counseling, and information in more than 420 Walgreens stores across 38 states, DC and Puerto Rico.
The Department continues to work with partners to promote HIV testing and connect individuals to treatment and medications to prevent transmission of the virus. This ongoing work with providers, advocates, and stakeholders aims to end the HIV epidemic in the state by 2025.
These efforts have three main goals:
- Reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75 percent
- Promote access to testing so that 100 percent of persons living with HIV/AIDS know their status
- Promote access and linkage to care so that 90 percent of persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are virally suppressed.