Special to Iredell Free News
RALEIGH — At the end of 2021, an estimated 4,000 people were living with HIV in North Carolina and unaware of their HIV-positive status. Getting tested routinely and knowing their status enables people to get treatment quicker.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes June 27 as National HIV Testing Day. To underscore the importance of knowing your HIV status, and to learn more about the latest HIV science, NCDHHS Secretary Kody H. Kinsley and N.C. State Senator Jim Burgin visited the HIV Cure Center/Qura Therapeutics. This public-private partnership between ViiV Healthcare and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill features scientists from academia and industry working side by side solely focused on discovering and developing a cure for HIV.
“Discoveries in HIV science continue to revolutionize the treatment of HIV and other diseases and puts us on the verge of ending the HIV epidemic,” Kinsley said. “Getting tested can give you the information you need to improve your health and the quality of your life. Get tested today.”
North Carolina’s plan to End the Epidemic identifies HIV testing as a key strategy for the state. Testing for HIV facilitates rapid access to treatment if the test is positive. If the test is negative, effective HIV prevention is available — known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP that can prevent HIV. Helping people access the best medical care for them will help end the HIV epidemic.
“Medication in the form of long-acting injectables has great promise to improve the quality of people’s lives,” said Sen. Burgin. “We are committed to increasing access to therapeutics like this as we work to stop HIV and other diseases in their tracks.”
At the end of 2021, preliminary data show a total of 35,363 people in North Carolina were diagnosed and living with HIV. New diagnoses have been stable the past few years after decreasing prior to the pandemic. Preliminary data shows 1,392 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in North Carolina in 2021 — a 1% increase compared to 2019. (2020 numbers were affected by the pandemic and new cases that year are considered underreported.)
Getting tested and starting care is key to closing the gap on disparities. While HIV disproportionately affects historically marginalized communities, once people are in care, the disparity in health outcomes is much smaller. Programs such as Ryan White and the HIV Medication Assistance Program support have pioneered this approach. Treatment leads to viral suppression and people whose HIV is reliably suppressed cannot sexually transmit HIV to others.
“Knowing your HIV status is a key step to staying healthy,” said Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist. “Connecting to care and achieving viral suppression saves lives for people who test HIV positive, and PrEP is now available for those who test negative, to protect their sexual health and prevent HIV.”
The NCDHHS Division of Public Health continues to work to reduce transmission of HIV and to address the needs of those living with HIV.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed SL 2021-110, allowing pharmacists to dispense Post-Exposure-Prophylaxis (PEP) for the prevention of HIV.
DPH has developed an End the Epidemic Plan, and all funded agencies and health departments are encouraged to utilize the plan as a blueprint.
North Carolina provides access to life-saving medications and medical care for more than 9,000 eligible, low-income residents living with HIV through the HIV Medication Assistance Program (HMAP). Approximately 84% of clients enrolled in HMAP are in care and virally suppressed, compared to 67% of all people living with HIV statewide.
North Carolina provides funds for HIV testing, connections to care and programs to reduce the number of cases based on scientific evidence.
Local health departments and other providers are starting to offer PrEP for HIV. For more information about PrEP, visit www.med.unc.edu/nchivtraining/clincian-resources/prep/prep-for-consumers or pleaseprepme.org.
What Can You Do in Recognition of HIV Testing Day?
♦ Consider your own health, and if you don’t know your HIV status, get tested. To locate a testing site near you, visit gettested.cdc.gov.
♦ Have an open and honest conversation with people you care about who might be vulnerable to HIV. Urge them to be tested.
♦ Provide transportation and a supportive hand or ear for those who might be in need.
♦ If you have reasons to engage HIV prevention and care, talk to your doctor about PrEP — the medicines that prevent HIV.
♦ Tell others, that HIV is treatable and preventable. People who take their medications live long and healthy lives and cannot transmit the virus to others when they achieve viral suppression.