World AIDS Day is December 1, and DHEC is encouraging South Carolinians to get tested, know their status and, for those living with HIV, to stay on treatment to keep the virus suppressed.
‘Ending the Epidemics’ in SC
This year, in conjunction with World AIDS Day, DHEC is also promoting the goal of “Ending the Epidemics” in South Carolina. This new initiative focuses on reducing the number of new HIV, STD and Hepatitis C infections by linking individuals to providers, increasing viral suppression for those living with HIV/AIDS, and promoting prevention.
“South Carolina ranked tenth in the country and the District of Columbia in the case rate for HIV diagnoses in 2015,” said Ali Mansaray, Director of DHEC’s STD, HIV, and Viral Hepatitis Division. “This year, we hope to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested, and to help those who are living with HIV to start and continue care. Life-saving HIV treatment is available to reduce HIV in the body to very low levels so that those living with HIV stay healthy and are less likely to infect others.”
In 2015, nearly 700 adults and adolescents were newly diagnosed with HIV in South Carolina. As of December 31, 2016, there are an estimated 18,998 South Carolina residents living with diagnosed HIV infection, including AIDS.
“Early detection through testing remains essential to successfully identifying and treating the disease, and helping to end the epidemic,” says Mansaray.
Persons living with HIV need continuous care
Another vital component to ending the HIV epidemic is ensuring that all persons living with HIV are in a continuous system of medical care and treatment. DHEC estimates that almost 6,000 persons living with HIV are not currently receiving medical treatment. To address this situation, DHEC has implemented a new public health strategy, Data to Care, which offers those living with HIV assistance and support to bring them back into care and help them to stay in treatment.
“Medical treatment is so effective that persons living with HIV can effectively control the production of HIV,” said Dr. Bambi Gaddist, Executive Director of the Joseph H. Neal Wellness Center. “The CDC recently announced that people who take their HIV medications as prescribed and achieve and maintain undetectable viral loads have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner.” Dr. Gaddist is referring to the notice updating HIV Treatment and Viral Suppression released by the CDC in September.
Testing is available
Throughout the year, DHEC clinics provide HIV testing at a small cost depending on the client’s ability to pay. On November 29, in recognition of World AIDS Day, free HIV and STD testing will be offered at DHEC clinics. In Charleston, free testing will be offered on December 1.
To find a clinic near you, visit www.scdhec.gov/health/publichealthclinics.
For more information about HIV testing, as well as local HIV testing sites, call DHEC’s AIDS/STD Hotline at 1-800-322-AIDS (1-800-322-2437), or visit DHEC’s website at www.scdhec.gov/HIV.