Today (June 27) is the twentieth National HIV/AIDS Testing Day. People can be at their healthiest and most empowered when they know their status and can start treatment, but 60% of young people with HIV don’t realize they’re positive.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee, co-chair of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, has spoken to MTV News in the past about the importance of testing and supplying young people with sex education so they know how to protect themselves. Unfortunately, too many young people haven't been taught that condoms work against HIV, that HIV is treatable, or that a lack of symptoms doesn't automatically mean an HIV negative status.
“The Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus is working on a broad range of issues to increase HIV testing, to ensure everyone has access to care and to reduce stigma associated with the disease,” Congresswoman Lee told MTV News.
She explained that you can help by calling your members of Congress (202.224.3121) and encouraging them to join the caucus. “Additionally, they can ask their Members of Congress to support key legislation like the REPEAL Act (H.R. 1586), which addresses the HIV criminalization laws that are on the books in 32 states, and the Real Education for Health Youth Act (H.R. 1706), which provides for comprehensive sex education so young people can make healthy decisions.”
When asked by MTV News why HIV/AIDS is an issue that matters to her on a personal level, Congresswoman Lee said she experienced a moment of clarity when the Honorable Maudelle Shirek, her friend and mentor, invited her to a rally.
“When I arrived, I saw so many people that I knew and I saw how this disease was affecting them and their families,” Congresswoman Lee said. “So, I got involved because it really matters –- it matters to my friends, their families and our community.”
And young people, she said, can make major headway on fighting HIV/AIDS, both by taking care of themselves and helping others by combating stigma.
“The most important thing young people can do is get educated and get involved: know the risks, how to protect themselves, where to get tested and how to reach care,” said Congresswoman Lee. “Young people also play a key role in fighting stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. Once people understand HIV, they realize that those living with HIV are no different than those without the virus. The second step is to educate others; help them understand the disease and that stigma and discrimination are just ignorance.”
She reflected on the fact it’s been twenty years since the first National HIV/AIDS Testing Day. “We’ve come a long way,” she said. “Thanks to advances in science, treatment and care, people are living longer, healthier lives with the virus.”
But that doesn’t mean this is over. “One in seven people that are HIV-positive are unaware of their status. If people don’t know their status, they cannot get care or protect others – so this Testing Day, I hope you will join me in taking the test and taking control. It’s your health.”
To learn more about getting yourself tested, check out MTV’s It’s Your Sex Life.