Saturday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV.
We've made great progress since the first HIV diagnosis over 30 years ago. Science, medical and clinical care have drastically improved.
Just this November, a major advancement came when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that all Americans ages 15-65 receive routine HIV testing, not just those most at risk.
But too many people still don't know they have HIV.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly one in five people with HIV don't know they are infected, don't get HIV medical care, and can pass the virus on to others without knowing it.
There are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and each year about 50,000 people get infected. In Colorado, more than 11,000 people are living with HIV/AIDS, 77 percent of whom are men.
Young people make up about 40 percent of all new infections. Lack of access to information and resources, and even fear, are part of what drives these numbers.
Too often, it's hard for people, including parents, to talk about young people and sexuality. As a result, many teens don't receive comprehensive sex education, including information about HIV. Lack of insurance and access to health care are other barriers.
Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains is a partner in helping to change all this by working to reduce the high rates of sexually transmitted infections through education and screenings. The goal is to create the healthiest generation ever.
Last year, PPRM saw 121,400 patients and provided more than 15,000 HIV screenings. We work with partners to ensure that when people test positive, we use local and regional linkage services to assure that they get into care.
The new health care reform law, also known as the Affordable Care Act, also gives us an opportunity to work together to change the course of HIV. With new investments in medically accurate sex education, and the evolution of health technology as a means to educate and communicate with more people than ever before, we have more methods to reach people.
Under the Affordable Care Act, millions more people will be eligible for health insurance and HIV care. Currently, insurers will be required to fully cover annual counseling and screening for HIV infection for all sexually active women - as well as HIV screening for adolescents and adults age 13-64 who are at higher risk for contracting HIV.
Health care providers such as Planned Parenthood health centers will play a large role in translating these new requirements into expanded access to health care for people across the country.
Planned Parenthood is among the nation's leading providers of HIV screening. In fact, one in three women who receive an HIV test is tested at a women's health center like Planned Parenthood. In 2011, Planned Parenthood health centers nationwide conducted 680,000 HIV tests, a 16 percent increase from 2010.
Family planning providers are exceptionally well-placed to provide HIV screenings and referrals to HIV treatment because they are often the only provider of care for women. Among women surveyed at family planning health centers nationwide, 41 percent reported that these health centers were their only source of health care in the past year.
On World AIDS Day, and every day, there is much to be done. Talk to your friends and family and raise awareness about testing, ensure your loved ones get the information and care they need and deserve, and let your legislators know that you support investments in family planning.
- Rebecca Murray Nichols is the manager of the Glenwood Springs Health Center for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.