It’s been nearly 20 years since the United States observed its first National HIV Testing Day on June 27, 1995. But because Black people are still contracting the virus at higher rates than other groups, advocates say folks still need to get tested. 

“The thing that we know about HIV is that the earlier you know your HIV status, the longer you can live. That is fact,” says Rae Lewis-Thornton, an activist who’s been advocating for HIV prevention and care for over four decades.

Lewis-Thornton says that even today, decades after the virus was first discovered in the 1980s, “testing is even more incredibly important because you can’t get treatment if you don’t know your HIV status.” 

About 560,000 people in the U.S. found out they contracted the virus in the 1980s when the epidemic started. Black people were among those most affected. 

Sadly, not much has changed. 

Today, Black people account for just over 40% of all new HIV diagnoses. Over 290,000 of us have progressed to stage three HIV, developed AIDS, and died since the 1980s, according to 2016 statistics. 

“HIV is now a manageable disease but it’s still important that people get tested regularly.”

DR. SHERRY MOLOCK, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY

Lewis-Thornton, who found out she was living with HIV after donating blood in 1987, says technology has become so advanced and by using it, “we really can save someone’s life.” 

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