A Fighting Chance Against HIV

On World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood's Vanessa Cullins writes at the Huffington Post that the epidemic is preventable if everyone knows his or her status and receives consistent health care. Here's how she's pushing to make that a reality.

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Dec. 1 marks the 25th celebration of World AIDS Day, and Vanessa Cullins, vice president for external medical affairs at Planned Parenthood, says that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not too big to conquer. Cullins writes at the Huffington Post that the upcoming implementation of the Affordable Care Act might have a positive impact on encouraging people to get tested, especially when the test comes without a co-pay.

HIV infection is an almost entirely a preventable disease, yet it remains epidemic in the African-American community. We account for almost half of all HIV infections in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 16 black men and one in 32 black women will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. These numbers are simply too high, and part of the reason is that many of us believe we can't be infected or exposed to a sexual partner with HIV. That life-threatening falsehood fuels a cultural stigma about regular testing for HIV, which can save lives. As a result, too many of us are going undiagnosed and untreated, putting our lives and our partners' lives at risk.

Stigma isn't our only roadblock to ending the HIV epidemic. People of color are also more likely to be uninsured or under-insured than Caucasians, and, therefore, we're often delayed in getting care because of cost. But thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), 3.8 million African-Americans stand to gain health care coverage, providing millions of women, men, and young people access to HIV screening, education and, if needed, treatment that they otherwise would not have had. As a part of the ACA's preventive care benefits, insurers will be required to cover annual counseling and screening for HIV infection with no co-pay for all sexually active women, as well as HIV screening for adolescents and adults ages 13-64, who are at higher risk for contracting HIV. This could help reduce the annual rate of HIV transmission in the U.S. by ensuring that more people get regularly tested and counseled about how to prevent HIV, and by ensuring that those who are HIV positive receive timely treatment.

But if we really want to win the war against HIV, testing and counseling must become a routine part of care for everyone -- not just those most at risk.

Read Vanessa Cullins' entire piece at the Huffington Post.

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