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FDA Approves New HIV Test

Joy Freeman | 8/6/2012, 12:14 a.m.

When it comes to AIDS, knowledge equals power and now within just 20 minutes - the time it may take to travel from the club to the crib for a quick hook-up - you can find out with about 92 percent accuracy whether you or a consenting partner has the virus.

Earlier this month, the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approved the OraQuick In-Home HIV Test which uses a saliva sample obtained by oral swab to determine the presence of HIV antibodies, which if undetected can lead to AIDS.

"The plus side of the rapid, at-home testing is that we are glad to see this as an additional tool in the fight against AIDS that will contribute to more people getting tested," said Chip Lewis, deputy director of communications, for Whitman-Walker Health in Northwest. "The reality is that a quarter to a third of those infected with HIV, do not know they're positive. It's so important for people to get tested, to know their results, and to seek treatment - that's where Whitman Walker comes in," Lewis said.

According to the D.C. Department of Health's 2011 "District of Columbia HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Epidemiology Annual Report," the number of new AIDS cases decreased by 32 percent, from 700 in 2006 to 477 in 2010. However, the percentage of residents infected - near three percent - still remains high enough for HIV/AIDS to rate as an epidemic in the District.

D.C. had more than 800 new HIV infections in 2011, based upon Whitman-Walker data. "We had 200 deaths from AIDS last year, which is still too many, but represents a decrease in mortality that means we're heading in the right direction," Lewis said.

With epidemic levels of HIV/AIDS in the District, black women are at the epicenter of the crisis. HIV rates in the past two years have doubled to 12 percent among black women in D.C.'s poorest neighborhoods; and further, black women represent the vast majority of all newly reported HIV infections nationwide.

The District, with its record number of HIV/AIDS cases, has become ground zero for the 2012 International AIDS Conference which started on July 22 and runs through July 27, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest. Organizers selected the District to celebrate President Barack Obama lifting the "HIV travel ban" in 2009, which ended a U.S. ban on travelers with the HIV virus.

When asked about the prevalence of HIV among black women, LaFonda Willis, 29, a graduate student and a single black woman who lives in Northwest said that black men need to be forthcoming about their sexual history.

"A woman should be able to make an informed decision as to whether she's in agreement with a man's particular sexual preferences; she has the right to know."

For Willis, it's about black men being honest about sexual practices with the women they're dating. For Lewis, of Whitman-Walker Health, "It's behavioral patterns - not race, sexual orientation, or gender - that contributes to increased infection rates."