DHEC Encourages HIV Awareness and Offers Free Testing for World AIDS Day
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Dec. 1, 2023
COLUMBIA, S.C. – In observance of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) will offer free testing at most local health departments on Tuesday, Dec. 5. South Carolinians can be tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and hepatitis C at no cost.
This is the 43rd year of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. World AIDS Day is observed each year on Dec. 1 and is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and remember those who have died. Started in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first-ever global health day.
"Every county in the state has residents living with HIV, but many South Carolinians remain unaware of their HIV status because they have not received an HIV test," said Ali Mansaray, director of DHEC's STD, HIV and Viral Hepatitis Division. “The CDC estimates that 16 percent of the more than 20,000 South Carolinians living with HIV do not know their status.
“Undiagnosed people risk transmitting HIV, so we must work together to find and link these fellow South Carolinians to health care for their sake and the sake of our communities.”
As of December 2021, there were 19,846 residents of South Carolina living with a diagnosis of HIV, including AIDS. Between 2020-2021, 1,460 people in South Carolina were newly diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Of these, a large portion – approximately 36% – were young people aged 20-29.
“We now have all the tools necessary to end the HIV epidemic, such as powerful and highly effective medications to prevent and treat HIV,” Mansaray said. “Unfortunately, what still eludes us is how to eliminate stigma rooted in our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors regarding the virus and those affected by it.”
Another vital component to ending the HIV epidemic is ensuring all people living with HIV are continuously receiving medical care and treatment. DHEC estimates almost 4,500 South Carolinians living with HIV are not receiving medical treatment. To address this, DHEC has implemented the Data to Care program, which offers assistance and support to those living with HIV and helps bring them back into care and stay in treatment.
Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) is a medical treatment for HIV that involves the use of a combination of medications. It can be taken as a pill or shot. These medications work together to stop HIV from multiplying in the body.
The benefits of ART include reducing the amount of HIV to undetectable in the body and reducing the risk of transmitting the virus the others. Proper use of ART improves the quality of life for individuals with HIV and contributes to public health by lowering the likelihood of HIV transmission.
DHEC, Ending the Epidemics SC, the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services (DAODAS), S.C. Christian Action Council and other key partners invite the public to participate in the youth-led Ending the Epidemics SC World AIDS Day 2023 events online or in-person on Friday, Dec. 1. An all-day Facebook and Instagram (@EndingTheEpidemicsSC) event will feature video greetings and information from individuals, clinics and agencies around the state. The annual Charleston-area World AIDS Day Community Observance will be livestreamed on both platforms beginning at 6 p.m.
An in-person, outdoor event will take place in Columbia on the South Carolina State House grounds from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1. The press conference at 11 a.m. will feature a keynote addressing the intersection of the HIV epidemic and human trafficking. The event will also include free HIV testing, demonstrations of home-test kits, informational displays, a story-sharing section, giveaways, games and prizes. Visitors to the State House event can participate in a photo competition using the hashtag #EtESCWAD2023.
For more information about STDs and locations that provide screenings throughout the year, call DHEC’s HIV/STD Hotline at 1-800-322-AIDS (1-800-322-2437) or visit DHEC’s website at www.scdhec.gov/stdhiv.