PROVIDENCE - The Rhode Island Department of Health (HEALTH) encourages Rhode Islanders to "take the test and take control" in observance of National HIV Testing Day on Wednesday, June 27.
Rhode Islanders who do not have a primary care doctor, who lack insurance or who are concerned about out-of-pocket costs for testing can take advantage of free or low-cost testing offered through HEALTH's year-round partnerships with organizations like AIDS Care Ocean State, AIDS Project Rhode Island and MAP Behavioral Health Services. These three community-based agencies will also offer testing for Hepatitis C and vaccinations to help prevent the spread of Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.
"I encourage all Rhode Islanders who have ever been sexually active to speak with their doctor about routine HIV testing during their regular check-up," said Michael Fine, M.D., director of HEALTH. "One in every four people infected with HIV in Rhode Island today does not know that they have it. Without that knowledge, those who are infected are more likely to unknowingly spread HIV to others."
Some clinics will offer extended hours during the week of June 24-30 to accommodate additional patients. The HEALTH website has posted daily schedules of the three state-funded clinics that offer free HIV testing and preventive test services, and also lists more clinics throughout Rhode Island that offer low-cost or income-based free HIV services year-round.
There were 97 new HIV cases reported in Rhode Island in 2011, and 1,451 newly diagnosed HIV cases among Rhode Island residents were reported to HEALTH between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2010. As of 2010, the number of people living with HIV in Rhode Island was estimated to be between 4,100 and 4,500 — with 26 percent of those people unaware of their status.
"The goal of the Rhode Island Department of Health is to eliminate new native HIV infections in Rhode Island by 2016," said Dr. Fine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States, with about 20 percent of those people unaware that they are infected and at risk of spreading HIV to others. Approximately 50,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year.
The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) founded the National HIV Testing Day in 1995 and continues to lead the annual observance.