This June 27, marks National HIV Testing Day (NHTD)—a day established to promote HIV prevention. You may already know that gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV in the U.S. today. Black gay and bisexual men are particularly affected by this epidemic. Studies have shown that one in three black gay and bisexual men are infected with HIV. Yet, 59% are unaware they are HIV positive because they have never been tested. HIV infections are continuing to escalate with the increasing number of gay men who are aging and living with HIV. It’s up to us to prevent HIV infection through education of the epidemic that helps gay men to understand their relation to sex and HIV, and realize the significance of HIV testing.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to explain why black gay and bisexual men are most affected by HIV. Research has shown that black gay and bisexual men participate in less risky behaviors (e.g., many sex partners and drug use) than any other gay men. However, the lack of access to healthcare, unemployment, stigma, depression, racism, and having sex with older partners is proven to contribute to gay and bisexual men contracting the disease. Additionally, since we know that the number of HIV infections in black gay and bisexual men is growing; the possibility of becoming infected with HIV is also growing. Studies of sexual networks also reveals that young black men tend to partner with men of similar races and economic backgrounds. Thus, for black men of low socioeconomic status (SES) the likelihood of infection is heightened by the fact that there are higher levels of untreated virus in their sexual networks. This is fueled by the fact that these men face multiple levels of discrimination which diminishes their access to effective healthcare, including prevention, and resulting in higher levels of untreated infection.
One of the most preventable contributing factors to HIV infection is thinking you can tell if your partner is HIV positive or negative. You can’t tell if a person is HIV positive by looking at him or her. Many gay and bisexual men assume they do not have HIV because they feel ‘okay’. Without being tested, there is no way to know if you are HIV positive or negative. NHTD focuses on this element of HIV prevention by promoting HIV testing on a regular basis for sexually active gay and bisexual men.
You have the power to prevent HIV. By knowing your HIV status, you can make better choices for yourself and those you love. Whether you are positive or negative, you have the ability to take that knowledge and change the course of this epidemic. By knowing your HIV status you not only can treat the infection and improve your health, but in doing so you are reducing the likelihood of passing on the infection and thus can help prevent the spread of HIV. Fortunately nowadays we have effective treatments for controlling HIV, a situation radically different than 30 years ago, as documented in my book The AIDS Generation. I encourage you to get involved on National HIV Testing Day and find out your HIV status, if you do not already know it. HIV testing is a simple step to leading a healthier life.
Perry N. Halkitis, Ph.D., M.S., MPH is a Professor of Applied Psychology and Public Health (Steinhardt School), and Population Health (Langone School of Medicine).He also directs the Center for Health, Identity, and Behavior & Prevention Studies.Dr. Halkitis has extensive experience in consulting on all aspects of research from conceptualization to dissemination; grant proposal development and writing; the creation of educational and training materials for all age levels; and statistical and psychometric guidance, analysis and support.Dr. Halkitis also has presented extensively throughout the world to large academic and gay audiences and is available for lectures and speaking series on all subjects relating to HIV/AIDS, gay men’s health, substance use, as well as health and human development. For more information visit: www.perrynhalkitis.com