Singer-songwriter Keri Hilson doesn’t just use her voice to belt out soulful lyrics. Today, she’s using that voice to speak up about HIV and the importance of being tested.
“We live so healthy, but it could all be thrown away in one bad second,” Hilson says. “One split-second decision could change everything.”
She’s teamed up with the Reed for Hope Foundation — which inspires young girls and boys to know their HIV statuses and the statuses of their partners, before becoming intimate.
“I think there’s such a taboo, especially in the African-American community, about talking about AIDS. There’s so much negativity around it that it scares people [from] actually knowing where they stand.”
To make HIV testing more private and convenient, OraSure Technologies — who Hilson has also partnered with — created OraQuick, an at-home HIV test.
“You know your status within 20 minutes,” says Hilson. “You don’t have to worry about going to the doctor’s office or being ashamed… or waiting super long.”
OraQuick is FDA-approved and the same rapid HIV testing kits that doctors’ offices, public health centers and the CDC have been using for a decade.
“There’s still a large population of the United States who have never been tested [for HIV],” says Doug Michels, president and CEO of OraSure. “We know that there’s fear, there’s stigma. This gives people another option.”
He adds that even those who already test annually with their doctor can utilize OraQuick to test more frequently at home if they feel the need to.
The CDC estimates that 1.1 million Americans are currently living with HIV and nearly one in five of them do not know they are infected. CDC recommends that all adults and adolescents be tested at least once in their lives and that those at higher risk, as well as gay and bisexual men, be tested more frequently.
“I’m hoping people will just have [HIV testing] parties, or a whole family will get together,” Hilton shares. “Or as two people are about to become intimate, I’m hoping that they will bring a test and just know their status before they get intimate.”
The kits cost approximately $40 out-of-pocket at most pharmacy retailers across the United States and online at OraQuick.com. Yet, Michels says not to let the price be a deterrent.
“With a copay associated with a doctor’s visit as high as 20 to 30 dollars, and people having to take time off of work, generally speaking this is a pretty cost-effective and convenient way to learn their HIV status,” Michels explains.
But, for people who can’t afford the kit or just prefer free testing, those resources are still available in hospitals, doctors’ offices and public health centers.
“Every time someone gets tested for HIV, we are one step closer to ending the AIDS epidemic,” said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention in a statement. “Learning your HIV status opens the door to powerful HIV prevention and treatment options that could save your life or the life of someone you love.”
Hilson agrees: “Early detection is the key.”
Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for NBC’s theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty.