Why We Need Regular HIV Testing Everywhere
Far from the 1980s and early 90s, when an HIV diagnosis was mostly a death sentence, today there are 31 FDA-approved antiretroviral drugs to treat and manage HIV infections—slowing down the virus and improving quality of life. So when almost 50 percent of people tested for HIV at Atlanta’s Grady Hospital—the only ER in the city to offer routine testing for all of its patients—present with AIDS, it’s a definite cause for concern.
“This is something that keeps me awake at night,” Grady’s Dr. Abigail Hankin-Wei told WABE. “The first time we are telling them they’ve been infected with HIV, we know that among our patients, nearly half of them have AIDS the day we diagnose them.”
It takes an average of eight to 10 years for untreated HIV to develop into AIDS. And though data shows that one-third of people diagnosed with HIV in Atlanta are late-stage—consistent with the national average—Hankin-Wei reports higher and more immediate figures on the ground.
“We shouldn’t even be talking about AIDS anymore these days, and yet we still are,” said Dazon Dixon Diallo, president of AIDS advocacy group Sister Love.
Factors such as poverty, stigma, a lack of insurance, and fear lead to low testing rates. And though the CDC recommended in 2006 that routine HIV testing be offered in all healthcare settings, as WABE notes, Grady’s Emergency Department is the only one in Atlanta to offer it—and its funding comes from Gilead, a pharmaceutical company.
Funding plays a crucial role in HIV diagnosis; health advocates say the situation could improve if more money was allocated to early intervention. They point to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal’s refusal to expand Medicaid, which could net the state $33.7 billion and provide 400,000 low-income residents with healthcare.