06/27/2012 11:57 am ET Updated Aug 27, 2012

AIDS In Black America On National HIV Testing Day

AIDS in America today is a black disease. Whether viewed through the lens of gender, sexual
orientation, age, socioeconomic status, education, or region of the country, black people bear the brunt of this epidemic. We are 13% of the population, but about half of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, nearly half of new HIV cases, and half of annual AIDS related deaths in this country are Black.

Nobody wants to talk about this. But the numbers are what the numbers are. We cannot end the
AIDS epidemic in America if we fail in Black America.

Despite all the advances in treatment, too many of us are being diagnosed too late in the course
of the disease. Fortunately, there is a solution: more HIV testing. More people learning their status is crucial to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, and to reducing the number of Black people dying from this disease. The bottom line is you can't get treated, if you don't know your status, and you can't know your status, if you don't get tested.

However, many people continue to live with doubt, choosing not to know for any number of reasons, including the stigma still associated with HIV. The effects of stigma are particularly difficult in the black community. Too often people are more afraid of the stigma than they are of the disease.

Across all demographic groups, an estimated 20% of people who are HIV positive do not know their status. These are people whose lives depend on being diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

Fortunately, it has never been easier to or more important to know your HIV status. Free clinics
and other testing options available in professional healthcare settings and community settings
are tremendously important. But if we are committed to ending the AIDS epidemic, we need to
make sure people have as many options as possible.

The benefits of early diagnosis and treatment are so dramatic that we should make it as easy as
possible for people to know their status and get connected to appropriate care in whatever way
is most comfortable for them.

The FDA is considering approval of an over-the counter HIV test now, and its approval could
change the way we think about HIV. Anyone committed to public health should be advocating
for more HIV testing options. We need to do everything we can to get more people tested for

Right now we are losing the fight against HIV in black and other communities in the United
States, but we don't have to. We need more tools to turn the tide. Greater access to care and
treatment, less stigma and new testing options could transform the HIV epidemic, and millions
of lives, forever. When future generations ask us, "What did you do when millions of people
were dying from AIDS?" I hope the answer isn't, "not enough."