Today is National HIV Testing Day, a day that focuses on the importance of knowing your HIV status and encouraging others to get tested. It is also a day to remember and reiterate to everyone that HIV testing saves lives. When a person is diagnosed with HIV early on and begins treatment early (and remains on treatment), he or she has a much better chance of living to a normal life expectancy. Plus, when a person knows they are HIV positive, they are more likely to take steps to protect their partners.
So, why is this important to farmworker organizations and supporters? The truth is, it is much more difficult for farmworkers and other rural or mobile populations to find a testing location, get to the testing location, receive a HIV test in their native language, be able to access HIV medication, and be able to take their medication consistently for the rest of their life. Those are a lot of barriers and not every farmworker will encounter all of them (and maybe a lucky few won’t encounter any of these), but as organizations interested in the lives of farmworkers and their families, these are barriers that make it difficult for farmworkers to find out their status and remain healthy if they test positive
HIV testing is the first step in the HIV Care Continuum, a model the government uses to look at the challenges and opportunities related to the care and treatment of people living with HIV. After testing positive for HIV, there are four more steps: linkage to care, staying in care, getting on HIV drug therapies, and maintaining a low amount of HIV virus in the body. Sadly, the numbers consistently drop. Of those who test positive for HIV, less get linked to care, and less of those linked to care stay in care, and less of those who stay in care get on HIV drugs, and even less maintain a low amount of virus.
Many farmworkers are not even able to get to that first step – getting tested and knowing their HIV status. However, just like many others in this country, many farmworkers are at risk for HIV. And if they do test positive, they have a much harder time getting linked to care, staying in care, getting HIV drug therapies, and maintaining a low HIV virus in their body. Some farmworkers that do find out they are HIV positive decide to return to their home country (where hopefully they will receive treatment and care), but some choose to stay here.
There is a lot of things we, as farmworker organizations, can do to help farmworkers overcome some of these challenges. We know that many farmworkers do not go to health centers or health departments regularly, and when they do, the first thing on their mind is most likely not an HIV test. However, they often interact with other social service organizations like attending ESL classes, getting involved in their children’s schools, and talking to lawyers about work issues. If we could use these avenues to encourage and organize HIV testing and education (through job fairs, school fairs, referrals, medical-legal partnerships, etc.), we could make great strides in helping farmworkers to know their HIV status. From there we could concentrate on some of the other steps mentioned above in the Continuum of Care, like helping HIV positive farmworker get linked to care, stay in care (for example, linking them to care in another State if we know they are heading north for a few months), help find ways to get on affordable life-saving drug therapies, and encouraging them to take their medication as directed.
Farmworker Justice is working hard, through a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) grant, to educate and assist non-HIV organization in how they can play an important role in HIV prevention. As part of our AAALI work, we will be sponsoring free, confidential HIV testing at the National Council of La Raza’s Latino Family Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, CA from 19-21 July from 10:30am – 6pm. HIV testing will be done by AltaMed. Throughout the Expo we will also be sponsoring a booth and activities to highlight HIV/AIDS prevention. We look forward to seeing you there!