Central Florida gets ready for National HIV Testing Day on June 27

(Photo courtesy LGBT Free Media Collective, from Wikimedia Commons)

ORLANDO | According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Orlando is in the top 10 cities in the U.S. for new HIV cases per year.

To raise awareness and lower these rates, agencies in the Central Florida area are rolling out several events for the 27th annual National HIV Testing Day on June 27.

“Ultimately, if Central Florida can do a better job of promoting HIV testing, we’ll be able to make a dent in what is currently an epidemic that is ravaging out community,” says Andres Acosta Ardila, CDC Ambassador for Stop HIV Together.

National HIV Testing Day was created to encourage people across the country to get tested for HIV, know their status and get linked to care and treatment if needed. Acosta Ardila, a councilmember of the Central Florida HIV Planning Council, says the day serves as a nationwide push to get individuals more aware of their health.

“The only way that we can really start to make a dent is through HIV testing because once people know their status, if they are HIV positive, we can get them into treatment,” says Acosta Ardila. “Once they’re into treatment, and they become virally suppressed, they can no longer transmit the virus to anybody else.”

For its part, the LGBT+ Center Orlando is hosting a 24-hour “Testathon” from June 24 at 2 p.m. until June 25 at 2 p.m. to give individuals the opportunity to get tested, not only for HIV but also for Hepatitis C, at any hour of the day. The Center’s director of health services Keyna Harris says although many local pharmacies offer HIV testing, not everyone is accommodated.

“A majority of places that provide HIV testing work in the confines of normal or traditional business hours, so essentially a nine to five or an eight to five,” says Harris. “It doesn’t allow testing for those people who work nine to five, so the purpose is to allow for after hours that benefit anyone and everyone and allow for people to access this resource whenever it suits them.”

With each new year of National HIV Testing Day comes a new theme to center on why every individual should get tested. This year’s theme is titled “HIV Testing is Self-Care,” and for Acosta Ardila, he says getting tested for HIV several years ago was the catalyst for prioritizing his own self-care.

“I am HIV positive, and I know that if I had never gotten tested for HIV, I would have never known my status which means eventually, my body would have suffered through everything that happens when you are not medicated,” says Acosta Ardila. “So, for me, HIV testing is self-care because it allows you to properly look at yourself and say, ‘What do I need to keep myself going?’”

Acosta Ardila says despite his diagnosis, he lives a healthy life and can no longer transmit the virus to others due to medical treatment. He says he hopes others take the message of practicing self-care to heart, and more individuals can get tested this month to help Orlando lower its HIV rates over time.

“Having an HIV positive diagnosis is not the end of the world, if anything it is the beginning of a new chapter,” says Acosta Ardila.

The LGBT+ Center Orlando’s 24-hour Testathon will take place at its Health & Human Services office, located at 1200 Hillcrest St. #112 in Orlando, starting June 24 at 2 p.m. through June 25 at 2 p.m. For more information on this and other LGBT+ Center Orlando programs, visit TheCenterOrlando.org.

For more information on the Central Florida HIV Planning Council, visit CentralFloridaHIVPC.com.

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