According the UK Department of Health, 35 percent of people living with HIV in the UK are unaware of their status, suggesting the need for a testing awareness day here, as well as in the United States. But what do the experts think?
"National AIDS Day goes by without a whisper nowadays. Funding is down for HIV and AIDS. So any awareness raising agenda is important", says Graham Downes, who has been an expert on the European Union Task Force for AIDS. "In terms of testing, one of the real problems is reaching people and letting them know that getting tested is doing the right thing," he says.
Conscious that part of the problem for people thinking about getting an HIV test is convenience, The UK Charity The Terence Higgins Trust has recently established 22 "fast test" centres around the UK where people can get the results of an HIV test in an hour. "We're trying to make these clinics more accessible by running them out of normal working hours and in the community, for example in youth centres or leisure centres," says a Trust spokesperson.
At the UK National AIDS Trust, Rachel Bruce says that prevention and education remain the priority. "What we really need is more actual investment in prevention measures, such as access to condoms", she says. "Education about HIV and how to avoid it needs to be improved too. Too few people still have too little information about HIV and AIDS prevention."
Doing the right thing. Access. Education. These are all vital components on the agenda. But the one person who was really on message today about HIV testing was—somewhat randomly as I was seeking expert advice on the issue—George Michael, who admitted that he was scared of having an HIV test.
The fear of knowing that you are in a high risk group. The fear that a test is only going to be bad news. The fear that you will be judged for being HIV-positive. The fear that you won't be able to afford treatment. All these fears, and the many individual manifestations of them, must be recognized and addressed as part of any strategy reaching out to encourage people to get an HIV test.