June 27th is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD). Founded in 1995 by the National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), this day serves to promote HIV testing across the U.S. by urging Americans to “Take the Test, Take Control.” But we know that it is not enough to test for HIV alone – knowing your partner’s status is crucial to effectively preventing HIV transmission.
While the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that there were more than 34 million people living with HIV around the globe at the end of 2010, they also find reasons to be hopeful: new HIV infections have declined by 21% since 1997, and AIDS-related deaths have similarly decreased by 21% since 2005. In addition, almost half of those who are eligible for antiretroviral therapy now have access to it.
As a maternal and child health program, we at MCHIP are particularly focused on the 3,000 women and 1,000 children who are newly infected with HIV every day. According to the World Health Organization, HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age worldwide, and in the highest prevalence countries, HIV is the leading cause of maternal deaths. In addition, an estimated 400,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2009, and millions more have been orphaned by AIDS.
In response to this pandemic, MCHIP is working to build the capacity of health workers and health systems to provide high-quality care and respond to emerging priorities in HIV prevention, care and treatment. Specific intervention areas include: HIV Testing and Counseling (HTC) as part of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT); cervical cancer prevention for women living with HIV; TB screening and referral in antenatal care settings; preservice education for nurses and nurse-midwives; and voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention.
There has been a great deal of progress in the prevention of PMTCT in many of the countries where MCHIP works, and UNAIDS’ 2010 Report on the Global Epidemic indicated that the virtual elimination of PMTCT is possible. Over the past decade, the number of children who contracted HIV during the perinatal and breastfeeding period each year decreased from 500,000 in 2001 to 370,000 in 2009.
As MCHIP continues its work to reduce HIV incidence among women, children and men, HIV counseling and testing will remain a critical tool in our prevention, care and treatment efforts, as well as an opportunity for a longer continuum of care engagement with other essential health services, without losing the focus on HIV prevention, treatment and support for mothers and children. And couple testing must be a key part of our approach, as we work to ensure that people living with HIV are promptly diagnosed and linked to high-quality care and treatment services.