World AIDS Day is Dec. 1. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) joins other Federal partners in efforts to increase HIV testing and treatment, as well as a call for prevention. This year’s theme is “Leadership. Commitment. Impact.”
VA is the largest provider of HIV care in the U.S., treating over 27,000 Veterans in 2015 and leading the nation in all components of the HIV Care Continuum. This care continuum includes diagnosis, linkage to care, retention in care, prescription of antiretroviral therapy (ART) treatment, and viral suppression. By December 2015, VA had performed HIV testing on 38.2 percent of Veterans receiving care in VA and in 2015 VA linked 100 percent of HIV-positive Veterans to care within 90 days of diagnosis.
While great progress in HIV/AIDS has been made over the last three decades, resulting in significant increases in treatment and prevention, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50,000 Americans become newly infected with HIV each year, with men who have sex with men (MSM) and African Americans disproportionately affected. It is also estimated that one in eight individuals living with HIV doesn’t know that he or she is infected which greatly increases their chances of unknowingly transmitting HIV to others.
Focusing on Prevention
Exciting developments in the prevention impact of viral suppression and the efficacy of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) have made prevention of HIV more attainable than ever before. VHA will be renewing our focus on prevention in the year ahead with this four-pronged approach:
- Early detection of HIV among Veterans in VHA care by increasing testing among vulnerable populations
- Keeping negatives negative by increasing uptake of PrEP
- Promoting diagnosis of HIV infection among Veterans in VHA care as soon as possible after exposure by implementing 4th generation screening as part of the revised CDC recommendations on laboratory testing for HIV
- Prevention with positives by addressing racial and ethnic disparities in HIV care and treatment and increasing linkage to treatment and adherence for all HIV positive Veterans
This World AIDS Day, we encourage you to join us in our efforts to increase HIV/AIDS testing and prevention by:
- Considering whether you should be tested for HIV. VHA recommends that everyone say “yes” to the test at least once in their lifetime.
- If you think you might be at risk for HIV, learn more about PrEP.
For updates on VHA efforts in the year ahead, please visit www.hiv.va.gov.
About the author: Lorenzo McFarland, DHA, MPH, MSW, PMP is a Senior Program Manger in Patient Care Services