Engaging Communities Around the First 90: Lessons from the AIDSFree Community of Practice

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “HIV Testing Day” might not reflect today’s reality. Since the first National HIV Testing Day was observed on June 27, 1995, a lot has changed:

  • HIV testing now is routine. Everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should be tested for HIV at least once, recommends the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • HIV testing now offers options. Three different types of tests are available; they help identify an infection at different stages. The test might use blood, urine, or saliva.
  • HIV testing now can be fast and anonymous. Home test kits can deliver a preliminary result in less than 30 minutes.
An example of an HIV self-test kit. Photo credit: Lauren Alexanderson, JSI

What’s still true – now more than ever – is that HIV testing remains the key strategy for slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS. About 13 percent of the people with HIV in the United States do not know they have the virus. Worldwide, that number is 40 percent.

And HIV testing is key to the objectives advanced by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS):

  • By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status.
  • By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy.
  • By 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

“It’s in all our interests to get to the first 90,” says Repsina Chintalova-Dallas, a technical advisor on JSI’s AIDSFree Project. She moderates an online HIV Testing Services Community of Practice that brings together more than 700 professionals from 58 countries. The vast majority of members are from outside the United States.

Four times a week, Chintalova-Dallas posts a carefully chosen scientific article, news item, professional tool, or similar resource. The goal is to inform and spark conversation among members.

The strategy works. A recent posting was an article co-authored by JSI colleagues Michael Chanda, Kalasa Mwanda, Wendy Nicodemus, Rebecca Sikaundi, and Andrew Fullem on using peer educators to introduce HIV self-testing. When community members chimed in with questions and comments, they got responses quickly – and from the original authors.

“There’s no doubt in my mind this is a valuable resource,” says Chintalova-Dallas.

Two rapidly changing issues in the field right now are how to encourage HIV self-testing and how to organize partner notification. Chintalova-Dallas brought colleagues up to date on these topics this month with a JSI in-service.

Getting out that kind of information is at the heart of the community’s mission, says Chintalova-Dallas. “If 10 people come in and you’re able to do partner notification with only one, that’s better than yesterday,” she says.

June 27, 2017, is National HIV Testing Day. For more information, join the AIDSFree HIV Testing Community of Practice.

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