In the 1980's, when people diagnosed with AIDS usually had a life expectancy of only 12 to 24 months, Support Ministries was founded in response to the homeless situation many found themselves in. Years passed and the needs of those living with HIV/AIDS changed. Deaths from the disease declined dramatically, thanks to successful drug therapies. Today HIV/AIDS is a manageable chronic illness. AIDS is an impoverishing disease that increases the risk of homelessness. Up to 50% of persons living with HIV/AIDS are expected to need housing assistance of some kind during their lifetime. According to recent studies, almost nine times more homeless individuals are infected with HIV than any other group. Three out of every four receive incomes below $10,000 placing them below the poverty level.
Although it is estimated that between 650,000 and 900,000 Americans are currently infected with HIV, it has been estimated that only one fifth to one third of the U.S. adult population has been tested for the disease. Hundreds of thousands of American adults may be unaware of their HIV status and continue to engage in behavior that could jeopardize their health and that of many others.
Privacy and Testing
It is important for anyone having an HIV test to understand the confidentiality policies of the testing center. Testing facilities offer two types of test procedures: confidential and anonymous.
Confidential HIV Testing centers record the person's name along with the results of his/her test. The only people with access to your test results are medical personnel and, in some states, the state health department. However, your status may become known if you sign a release form to have your personal physician notified. Once this information becomes part of your medical record, even a student's medical record at a college or university, it may be seen by health care workers, insurers or employers. Your status also may become known if you make a claim for health insurance benefits or apply for life insurance or disability insurance.
Anonymous HIV Testing means that no name is ever given to the testing center and only the person who is having the test is aware of the results.
Where to Get Testing
HIV testing is available at most hospitals, family planning or sexually transmitted disease clinics, community health centers, drug treatment facilities, and doctors' offices. Most testing sites offer free or inexpensive tests.
Why You Should get tested
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you should definitely get an HIV test. If you continue with any of these behaviors, you should be tested every year.
- Have you injected drugs or steroids or shared equipment (such as needles, syringes, works) with others?
- 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 (TB), or a sexually transmitted disease (STD), like syphilis?
- Have you had unprotected sex with someone who could answer yes to any of the above questions?
If you have had sex with someone whose history of sex partners and/or drug use is unknown to you or if you or your partner has had many sex partners, then you have more of a chance of being infected with HIV. Both you and your new partner should get tested for HIV, and learn the results, before having sex for the first time.
For women who plan to become pregnant, testing is even more important. If a woman is infected with HIV, medical care and certain drugs given during pregnancy can lower the chance of passing HIV to her baby. All women who are pregnant should be tested during each pregnancy.
There's no vaccine to prevent HIV infection and no cure for AIDS. But it's possible to protect yourself and others from infection. That means educating yourself about HIV and avoiding any behavior that allows HIV-infected fluids — blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk — into your body.
To help prevent the spread of HIV, you should:
Use a new condom every time you have sex.If you don't know the HIV status of your partner, use a new condom every time you have anal or vaginal sex. Women can use a female condom. Use only water-based lubricants. Oil-based lubricants can weaken condoms and cause them to break. During oral sex use a condom, dental dam & madsh; a piece of medical-grade latex — or plastic wrap.
Use a clean needle.If you use a needle to inject drugs, make sure it's sterile and don't share it. Take advantage of needle-exchange programs in your community and consider seeking help for your drug use.
Tell your sexual partners if you have HIV.It's important to tell anyone with whom you've had sex that you're HIV-positive. Your partners need to be tested and to receive medical care if they have the virus. They also need to know their HIV status so that they don't infect others.
If you're pregnant, get medical care right away. If you're HIV-positive, you may pass the infection to your baby. But if you receive treatment during pregnancy, you can cut your baby's risk by as much as two-thirds.