The national debate over health insurance and coverage of pre-existing conditions is ongoing. No one is more interested than those with HIV/AIDS in determining how changes will affect their ability to receive treatment and medications.

The issue is of paramount importance in The T&D Region. Of the more than 18,000 individuals living with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina (2015 estimate via the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control), 3,666 cases are in the Low Country Public Health Region that includes Orangeburg, Bamberg and Calhoun counties (other counties in the region are Allendale, Beaufort, Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Hampton and Jasper).

More than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV and nearly one out of seven is unaware of their status. That’s because too few people consider being tested for HIV/AIDS a matter of necessity for their health.

National HIV Testing Day was Tuesday, with the goal of promoting HIV testing and early diagnosis. Through DHEC clinics and partnering community providers, testing services in 2016 helped diagnose and link more than 230 people to HIV medical care who otherwise might have not known their status until much later.

Emphasis must not end with the annual observance. While treatment is vital, the adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure applies.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 get tested for HIV at least once as part of routine health care. Knowing HIV status allows you take steps to keep you and your partner healthy.

"More than 18,000 individuals were currently living with HIV/AIDS in South Carolina at the end of 2015," said Ali Mansaray, director of DHEC's STD/HIV and Viral Hepatitis Division. "Early detection through testing for HIV remains essential to successfully identifying and treating the disease and is critical to preventing new infections."

"Most people in the early stages of HIV infection have no symptoms," Mansaray said. "Early diagnosis can link people to services that will help them stay healthy longer, benefit most from treatment, reduce costly hospital visits and help prevent transmission to others."

Great strides in prevention and treatment have been made, but HIV/AIDS is still a public health crisis, particularly in minority communities. Testing is the best way to reduce the number of people who will live – and die – from HIV/AIDS, and to prevent the spread.

As they debate health care, our national leaders must not underestimate prevention as vital. Proposals that could result in a million fewer HIV tests each year are incredibly shortsighted – and fiscally irresponsible.

Testing is far more cost-effective than subsidizing HIV treatment.

For more information about HIV testing, call DHEC's AIDS/STD Hotline at 1-800-322-AIDS (1-800-322-2437), or visit DHEC's website at . You can also visit DHEC's health department finder web page at


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