Local activist Eric Cashmore knows what it’s like to live with HIV, but he says there are many people out there who have never been tested and are completely unaware if they are putting others at risk.
Cashmore is speaking out on the advent of National HIV Testing Day, which is June 27.
“"I've been working with other people living with HIV, like myself, across the province to try and promote this very important message,” he told Sudbury.com. “With the high levels of ‘undiagnosed’ people living with HIV, it's important that people get out and get tested."
As many of us know, when HIV enters the body, often through sexual contact or drug use, it attacks a person’s immune system, leaving an infected person unprotected against opportunistic infections, such as pneumonia. Left untreated this disease can make a person very sick and can even lead to death.
With today's HIV treatments however, a person is able to live a long and normal life.
But, Cashmore said, that’s only possible if a person gets tested and the virus is treated. It is estimated today that one in five people in Canada who are living with HIV have not been tested and do not know they have it.
Cashmore says that HIV stigma is much more problematic then the health effects of the virus if someone is on treatment. People living with HIV often struggle with higher rates of addiction and mental health issues due to the stigma that exists around the disease. He believes strongly that HIV testing is a vital part of HIV health and it helps to reduce HIV stigma.
The new Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) standard for HIV states that a person who is able to achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load (the amount of virus in your system) by taking HIV medications regularly creates a zero chance of HIV transmission through sexual contact. Eric notes however, that a person must get tested and treated for this standard to apply.
"As a community activist I'm always trying to help people advocate for their own sexual health. It's important to know what risks exist and how to communicate these factors to your partners," he said.
Réseau Access Network in Sudbury is hosting an HIV Testing Day (you can be testing for other infections as well) event in partnership with the Public Health Sudbury and Districts.
The event will be held from 1:30-4 p.m. on June 27 at Réseau’s 111 Larch Street location in downtown Sudbury.
You can call 705-688-0500 ext. 216 to book an appointment to be tested anytime, but booking is not necessary on HIV Testing Day as walk-ins will be welcome the Network said on its event Facebook page.
Réseau is also offering point-of-care testing (rapid finger prick test) on Testing Day. The MSM (men who have sex with men) clinic from 5-8 p.m. is also offering point-of-care screening.
“National HIV Testing Day (#NHTD), is a day to encourage people to get tested for HIV, know their status (#KnowYourStatus), and be linked to care and treatment if they are living with HIV. #DoingItMyWay,” Réseau posted to its HIV Testing Day events page.
Public Health Sudbury & Districts also offers testing, and walk-ins are welcome. You can find their 10 Elm Street, Suite 103.
Both Réseau Access and Public Health offer testing on a regular basis as well, not just on HIV Testing Day.
You can visit HIV411.ca is another great resource to find your local HIV/AIDS resources.