Know your status: Free HIV testing at Resource Center clinic

Posted on 19 Jun 2009 at 12:19am
By Reuben Ramirez Special Contributor

When was the last time you had an HIV test? What’s stopping you from getting one now?

National HIV Testing Day is an opportunity to take control of your health and learn your status. Resource Center Dallas is observing Friday, June 26 as Testing Day, and we encourage you to come in and get tested.

Once upon a time, people thought HIV was simply a disease affecting Caucasian gay males. The truth is, people of color have been disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS.

The Centers for Disease Control reports 32 percent of Latinos who test positive for HIV are diagnosed with AIDS only a month later. They are not getting tested soon enough after becoming infected with the virus, and since AIDS takes time to develop after infection, the lack of early treatment directly impacts their long-term health.

In Dallas County, half of all new HIV cases last year were African-American, up from 46 percent in 2007. The disease remains the leading cause of death for African-American women ages 25-34.

As Community Health Programs manager for the Center, I supervise our Latino health programs, "Libre Latino." Our testing numbers corroborate how the communities impacted by HIV have changed over the years.

So far in 2009, one out of three people we’ve tested are Latino; and almost all were gay, bisexual or heterosexual men who had sex with other men. Nearly six out of 10 of the HIV-positive test results from the community health testing programs are Latino men. Nine out of 10 of those men are above the age of 25.

Nationally, it’s believed that a quarter million Americans have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and are not aware of it. New numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show more than 56,000 Americans are infected with HIV every year.

Last year, in Dallas County, 961 people learned that they were HIV positive, up from 953 in 2007. Of those cases, more than half were men who have sex with men — regardless of sexual orientation. The rates of infection among people under the age of 30 remain high in spite of a generation of safer-sex messages.

Regrettably, funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, education and outreach is being threatened in these tough economic times. The city of Dallas is proposing to cut the $75,000 it gives to the Center for our Latino programs.

This program reaches more than 5,000 people with an HIV/AIDS prevention message each year.

Economically, it actually makes more sense to fund programs like our Latino outreach and reduce future cases of HIV/AIDS than it does to pay for the increased medical costs once a person is infected.

Nearly three decades into the pandemic, there is still no cure for HIV. But, a positive test result doesn’t mean that someone who is infected will become sick and die.

Early detection remains the key to long-term survival. New drugs are constantly being developed to fight the amount of the HIV virus in the body, and in turn help people to remain healthy.

Who should get an HIV test? If you are a sexually active man or woman who’s not in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship, or can answer "yes" to any of these questions, you should get a regular HIV test:

• Have you had unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex with men who have sex with men, multiple partners, or anonymous partners?

• Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?

• Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis, tuberculosis or a sexually transmitted disease like syphilis?

• Have you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others?

• Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?

We will offer 12 hours of continuous HIV testing at the Nelson-Tebedo Health Resource Center, 4012 Cedar Springs Dr., from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 26. You don’t need an appointment to get tested; just show up at the Center. You can also get a free syphilis test at the same time.

The Nelson-Tebedo Health Resource Center — part of Resource Center Dallas — has led the way in serving the Dallas community through HIV testing, education and services. Last month, Nelson-Tebedo marked its 20th anniversary. Our commitment to helping those affected by HIV and AIDS, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity remains steadfast.

This year, National HIV Testing day falls the same weekend as the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, and we here at Resource Center Dallas see both issues as intertwined. The struggles faced by both the GLBT and HIV/AIDS communities — including access to services and discrimination — are shared, and we are committed to the fight.

If you have been tested for HIV and syphilis before, congratulations. You’re taking care of your health.

If it’s been more than a year since you were last tested, this is your chance to be tested again. It’s easy, it’s quick and it’s free. Know your status, and get tested on June 26.

Ruben Ramirez is Community Health Programs manager for Resource Center Dallas.

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