The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that as of 2019, up to 81% of people infected with HIV knew their status. But, about 7.1 million are unaware they could be living with HIV, a clear sign and need for testing and treatment to bridge the gap.
So, how do we go about this, especially among high-risk groups? Perhaps, you may consider HealthyMD free HIV testing as a starting point. Meanwhile, let’s expound on the matter and look at a few pointers.
Why Is It Important to Test and Treat High-Risk Groups?
High-risk groups for HIV/AIDS are populations with a greater risk of infection or exposure to the virus. Some of the underlying risk factors include:
- Behaviors that increase the likelihood of exposure to HIV, such as unprotected sex or sharing needles
- Social and economic factors such as poverty or stigma can make it difficult to access information about HIV prevention or get tested.
- Living in areas with high prevalence rates, such as sub-Saharan Africa.
Testing and treatment can reduce or stop the spread of HIV and keep people healthy. That said, some people are at higher risk. The virus can quickly spread through these groups and into the general population if left unchecked. UNAIDS identifies these high-risk groups as:
- People who inject drugs
- The gay community
- Transgender people
- Sex workers, including their clients
Members of these groups might not get tested or treated for HIV for divergent reasons. For instance, they may be unaware of their status. Sometimes, an individual’s denial about their risky behavior also factors into the equation. That aside, here are approaches we can use to increase testing and treatment.
1. Offering Incentives for Testing
Another way to encourage HIV testing among high-risk groups is to offer incentives. These can include gift cards, movie tickets, or other items that may motivate someone to get tested. Some programs offer cash incentives for people who test negative and agree to refer their friends or partners for testing.
Free testing is widely available in the United States, and many sites offer confidential or anonymous testing. Also, such testing centers don’t share your information with anyone without your consent or permission.
2. Making Tests and Treatment More Accessible
To improve testing and treatment rates, we should explore ways to make tests more accessible, especially for high-risk groups. This means ensuring people have convenient access to testing sites and that the sites are staffed with trained personnel who can provide counseling and support. Improving accessibility also implies ensuring these sites offer confidential, non-judgmental care.
Making these services more convenient, such as by providing mobile testing units or home-based testing kits, can help increase uptake. Some mobile testing units take testing directly to people in high-risk communities, making it even easier for them to get tested. These units offer other services, such as HIV prevention education and condoms.
Treatment is also essential for people living with HIV, yet many do not have access to the care they need due to a lack of insurance or financial resources. But in other cases, people don’t access the treatment they need. Some of the barriers to care may include:
- A lack of awareness
- Unavailability of transportation to a testing center
- Cost of testing
- Childcare – the high cost of childcare may preclude some people from seeking the care they need.
But even when treatment is accessible, some people might not want to take antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) because of the side effects. To improve the uptake of medication, we can make ARVs available in different formulations (such as pills, patches, or injections). Other steps may involve providing transportation assistance or subsidies.
3. Reducing Stigma and Discrimination
Social stigma is a significant concern for anyone living with HIV or other ailments perceived as “undesirable.” In fact, people living with HIV often face discrimination on account of their condition.
This often prevents them from getting tested or treated, as they may fear rejection or violence. In some cases, due to rejection, people living with HIV may choose to infect others knowingly as a form of “revenge.” Discrimination also makes it more difficult to prevent new infections, as people may be afraid to get tested or to disclose their status.
I know it might be tempting to seize the moral high ground and lecture people about their risky behavior, but this may only make them defensive and less likely to listen to you. Instead, endeavor to promote open and honest conversations and offer your support.
Plus, if you’re unaware of your status, the ailment may progress to full-blown AIDS, which is far more difficult (and expensive) to treat. Essentially, we owe it to ourselves to create an environment where we treat everyone with respect and dignity. This includes:
- Educating people about HIV/ and AIDS.
- Working to change negative attitudes and behaviors.
- Supporting those living with HIV.
When people with HIV feel supported and accepted, they may consider testing for the virus and seeking treatment. In turn, they are less likely to transmit the virus to others.
4. Improving Education and Awareness
Many people in high-risk groups are unaware of their status or the services available to them. Increasing education and awareness about HIV testing and treatment can help more people access the care they need. Still, some people are unaware of their risk of HIV infection or how to protect themselves, meaning we have our work cut out.
5. Providing Targeted Support
People in high-risk groups often face multiple challenges, making it difficult to access HIV testing and treatment. This includes poverty, homelessness, mental health issues, and substance abuse. Providing targeted support – such as financial assistance, counseling, and harm reduction services – can help these individuals get the care they need.
When working with high-risk groups, we need to be aware of the unique challenges they face and tailor services accordingly. Otherwise, neglecting the target group could put many at risk of disease and death.
Ultimately, increasing testing and treatment for high-risk groups is essential to controlling the HIV epidemic. But, the harsh reality is that there’s only so much we can do. It’s up to the individuals in high-risk groups to decide to get tested and seek treatment. However, the onus is upon us to take steps and create an environment that is more conducive to positive health outcomes. Perhaps, the measures we’ve outlined can help us face the challenge we presently face.