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One of the cornerstones of HIV prevention and message is “Know your status, get tested.” But I want to tell you the hard truth: It’s not just a test. It’s more than that. Because it needs to be if we want to make a difference in our community and to reach a time when National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Sept. 27, becomes a subject for the history books.
We have to treat this as more than just a test if we ever want to get off the plateau of 50,000 new infections every year.
It’s your body and your choice, so why not choose you? Choose to get all the facts to make truly informed decisions about your health. This, in turn, cares for your community, but it comes with condition that you must play an active role. Each of us must become more empowered health consumers to truly make a difference in tipping the balance. This is about changing the conversation for the future, because if we don’t, we know the alternative is a continuation of the status quo.
But this doesn’t have to be the reality if we choose to not let it be. There are options in place that will truly help us change the conversation – and in some cases finally have the conversation – on what it means to be a healthy gay, bi, or same gender loving (SGL) man in America. Let this test be the starting point to think about health more broadly. Don’t let that stop with an HIV test. Allow this to become just a piece of your overall regular health maintenance. Ask for the test, but also for any other tests that might not be up to date.
Commit to a full, annual physical. Commit to all those important annual tests and to making sure you understand the results. It’s your health. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Empowerment requires action.
This year’s Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day comes before an important moment that will change the relationship of this country and the health care system. Next month starts open enrollment to the state health exchanges and expansion of Medicaid. This will grant millions access to new opportunities to improve their health.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has the power to truly make massive change. But, like an HIV test, it requires action and engagement. With the implementation of the ACA, we will see changes to the system that provide more holistic care, and that allow gay, bi, SGL men to choose health care workers who understand who we are and where we come from. This law will help break down some of the larger structural barriers that impact our ability to access quality health care.
The coming changes will open all kinds of opportunities for individuals to truly take an active role in their health care. To truly capitalize on this forward momentum, one must take charge and become an empowered health consumer. You have to be ready to ask for more than just the test. It can’t be just be about HIV, because you will never be just HIV. It’s a whole-body commitment to your health and health outcomes. Make a decision that leaves you with more than just a test.
Matthew Rose is a member of the community advisory board that serves the Vaccine Research Center at NIH. He also serves on the organizing committee of the Young Black Gay Men’s Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @MTKRose.