National HIV Testing Day: Empowering Everyone to Know Their Status and End the Stigma


HIV testing is for everyone, explains Dr. Uri Belkind, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender.

June 27 commemorates National HIV Testing Day, a day that encourages everyone to get tested for HIV, know their status, and take the appropriate next steps.

This year, Contagion spoke to Uri Belkind, MD, about everything from who should be tested for HIV to the obstacles hindering HIV eradication.

Belkind is the associate medical director of adolescent medicine at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center and is the clinical director of Health Outreach to Teens (HOTT), a health organization that primarily serves LGBTQ+ youth. Belkind is also a member of the National Hispanic Medical Association, American Academy of HIV Medicine, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

“It’s really important for everybody to know their status,” says Belkind, “Approximately 16% of people that are living with HIV don’t know that they have it.” Historically underrepresented minorities average a higher rate of both HIV infections and unknown HIV infections. Belkind specifically noted that for the Hispanic/Latinx community, the risk of HIV is 3.5-4 times higher than for White people.

“The importance of testing is for us to find those people that are living with HIV before they get sick,” Belkind said. He pointed out that HIV testing is different from screening for other diseases, such as cancer, because identifying and treating people living with HIV is also the best way to prevent HIV infection.

We commonly hear “undetectable equals untransmissible,” or “U=U,” and this understanding of HIV is invaluable. People who test negative for HIV can have the assurance of knowing their status, while also discussing potential preventative options, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).

“Regular HIV testing is an essential component for the sexual health for everyone,” says Belkind, “and this is regardless of sexual orientation, or race, or gender.” He pointed out that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone over the age of 13 be tested at least once.

That being said, certain individuals are at an inherently higher risk of contracting HIV, such as people who use intravenous drugs, people who participate in sex work, or men who have sex with men. Getting tested once in a lifetime does not eradicate the risk of HIV infection, and Belkind says people who are sexually active may want to incorporate HIV testing into routine health. These tests can be given by a primary care provider, or even bought over the counter to be taken at home.

The stigma that lingers around HIV has been “the biggest challenge,” says Belkind. “It’s HIV stigma, it’s sex stigma, really.” Belkind pointed out there is an erroneous belief that a person who has HIV or even gets tested for HIV “did something wrong.” The best way to strip HIV of this dangerous stigma is for everyone to get tested, Belkind says, “If everybody gets tested, then nobody is singled out for being tested.”

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