NEW JERSEY – In honor of June 27 as National HIV Testing Day the New Jersey Department of Health will be facilitating a series of free community events for HIV testing and education.
“Many New Jerseyans are still at risk for contracting HIV/AIDS, with LGBT and folks of color particularly vulnerable,” Health Commissioner Shereef Elnahal said. “It is important that we emphasize days like National HIV Testing Day to raise awareness of HIV, have more people learn their HIV status, and link them to life-saving medical treatment before they progress to advanced HIV disease.”
Of the millions of people living in New Jersey, more than 37,000 are living with HIV. Even more, about 10 percent of that population is unaware they have the disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.1 million people in the United States have HIV, including about 162,500 people who are unaware of their status. Nearly 40 percent of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who do not know they have the virus.
“From 2006 to 2016, we saw a 30 percent decline in the number of new HIV diagnoses due to highly effective treatments,” Elnahal said. “However, testing is the first and most important step.”
In 2018, Governor Murphy and his administration pledged to put an end to the HIV epidemic in New Jersey by 2025. Thus, the New Jersey Taskforce to End the HIV Epidemic was formed. The Taskforce is comprised of people living with HIV, clinical and community providers, academic researchers, and NJDOH staff.
In order to end the HIV epidemic by 2025, the taskforce set out three overarching goals:
- Reduce the number of new HIV infections by 75 percent
- Ensure that 100 percent of persons living with HIV/AIDS know their status
- Ensure that 90 percent of persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are virally suppressed.
As part of this mission, local health departments, federally qualified health centers and community-based organizations around the state will now be hosting free events to commemorate National HIV Testing Day.
The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 be tested at least once, and those at higher risk should be tested at least once a year. Healthcare professionals should offer an HIV test as part of routine care.
Last year, approximately 75,000 free, confidential rapid HIV tests were administered in New Jersey at more than 140 locations. This testing program delivers test results in about 20 minutes, and people can be linked to a PrEP Counselor if HIV negative or HIV Clinic if HIV positive.
In order to prevent to reduce the risk of HIV infection, the department suggests:
- Seeking HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), if you are HIV negative but at high risk for HIV; there are 34 PrEP Counselors located across the state. Call the NJ AIDS/STD Hotline at 800-624-2377 to find the one nearest you
- Adhering to HIV treatment regimens, if you are a person living with HIV/AIDS
- Using condoms consistently and correctly
- Avoiding sharing needles to inject fluids
- Refraining from sharing needles for body piercing or tattoos.