Pass on the love, not the worry: Condoms and the importance of HIV testing

Every year, the United States observes National Condom Week from February 14th (Valentine’s Day) to February 21st. What started as a fun campus event at the University of California–Berkeley in the 1970s has become an opportunity for HIV prevention educators and advocates to engage audiences across the country in conversations about condoms and other tools to protect ourselves and our partners from HIV.

In recent years, we have reached major milestones in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and new research has generated hope for an AIDS-free generation. Antiretroviral therapy (the use of drugs to prevent HIV infection) and other prevention methods to control the spread of the virus are available and helping people with HIV live longer, healthier lives. Even more exciting is the existence of medications that HIV-negative individuals can take to help prevent infection, an approach known as pre-exposure prophylaxis. Similarly, people with HIV can also take antiretroviral drugs as part of a method known as treatment as prevention that helps lower their viral load in an effort to protect their sexual partners and helps reduce HIV transmission on a larger scale .

But, one of the most powerful tools in the fight against the epidemic, along with condoms, remains HIV testing. The real power resides in knowing your status. This is particularly important for Latino gay and bisexual men, one of the groups most heavily impacted by HIV. Though Latinos comprise only 16 percent of the population in the United States, they account for 21 percent of all new HIV infections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the fall of 2013, the CDC selected the Social Marketing and Communication team at FHI 360 to assist with the management and implementation of the Reasons (Razones) campaign, a national, bilingual communications effort to encourage HIV testing among Latino gay and bisexual men. Reasons asks gay and bisexual Latinos, “What’s your reason? (¿Cuál es tu razón?)” for getting an HIV test. The question is promoted through a series of materials that feature men sharing their reasons for getting tested while encouraging others to do the same. Developed with input from more than 150 Latino gay and bisexual men, as well as community leaders and experts, the campaign uses images of family, friends and partners to emphasize a strong sense of self, family and community, which are important values among Latinos.

Campaigns like Reasons encourage Latino gay and bisexual men to adopt HIV testing as part of their routine medical care. These men are already engaging in conversations about the importance of HIV testing, and in most cases, they are more open to knowing their status. By conquering their fears and self-doubts and valuing their health above all, Latino gay and bisexual men have the potential to change the dialogue and outcomes of HIV and AIDS in their communities at large.

Despite promising changes in attitudes and behaviors, there is still much more work to be done, and we need more voices to help us carry the message throughout the United States. The campaign team’s creative energy is directed toward empowering Latino gay and bisexual men to get tested for HIV and in encouraging them to share the many different and personal reasons that motivate them to take control of their own health and destiny.

What about you? What are your reasons to get tested? We invite you to check out the campaign’s website, join the conversation on Facebook or use the hashtag #Sharereasons on Twitter.

On this Valentine’s Day, share the love and share your Reasons for getting tested for HIV.

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