A man stands outside a Walgreens store
(Photo: Walgreens)

When was the last time you had an HIV test? If you’re a sexually active gay man who has multiple partners, you should get tested a couple of times a year. If you’re on PrEP, many health insurers require you to get tested more often than that.

Even if you’re in a long-term monogamous relationship, and believe that you’re both negative, getting the occasional HIV test to check, is never a bad idea. Lots of HIV transmission does occur in committed couples who thought they were being safe.

National HIV Testing Day is Tuesday, June 27th, 2023. To mark the occasion, 400 Walgreens stores across the US will be hosting free HIV testing in conjunction with Greater Than HIV and smaller local health organizations. To find your nearest participating Walgreens, check Greaterthan.org/Walgreens.

Walgreens says branches in “areas disproportionately impacted by HIV” are more likely to be offering the testing, along with counselors to provide information on HIV treatment. Most will offer mobile testing units in parking lots, with pharmacists and further information inside the store.

Greater Than HIV is a public information initiative from the public health policy organization, KFF.

“This unique community-led effort brings people together in a familiar setting to receive a free HIV test, get the latest on HIV prevention and treatment and connect with local services,” said Tina Hoff, senior vice president, KFF, in a press statement.

“Our Greater Than HIV and Walgreens National HIV Community Partnership provides a great opportunity to help people know their HIV status and take action to protect their health.”

HIV still majorly impacts gay and bisexual men

Harry Webster is a gay pharmacist who has been working for Walgreens for over 20 years. He’s based in Atlanta, Georgia. He says he has participated in these free HIV testing days for several years. He offers people advice inside the store and encourages them to take advantage of the testing services outside.

With over 400 sites involved, Webster tells Queerty this will be the largest National HIV Testing Day yet for Walgreens yet.

“In terms of turnout, some areas are better than others. There’s a site in Augusta, Georgia, and they typically test 400 people on the day, so it’s pretty amazing.”

Over half of people living with HIV in the United States are gay and bisexual men.

According to the most recent CDC figures, there were 32,000 HIV diagnoses in the US in 2021, which represents a 12% drop from 2017. Much of that reduction comes down to PrEP use.

However, there was a glaring disparity in the figures. Black and Hispanic gay men are far less likely to be prescribed PrEP.

Only 11% of Black people who could benefit from PrEP were prescribed it, compared with 20% of Hispanic people and 78% of White people.

Nowadays, HIV is a manageable condition. If you’re diagnosed soon after infection, and placed on appropriate medication, you can expect to live a near-normal lifespan. However, the longer you go without a diagnosis, the greater your chance of experiencing complications or curtailing your lifespan.

HIV stigma

There remains a stigma around HIV and also around testing – especially if you’ve never done it before.

“​​I think back to when I got tested for the first time, and you had to wait days for the result,” recalls Webster. “There wasn’t anyone there to offer me counseling or information, or anything like that. On these testing days, we have trained counselors there, and they can help you get information about prevention, treatment, and getting into care. You’ll typically get your results back in less than 30 minutes. There’s no appointment necessary. You’re just going to Walgreens, so there’s not the big stigma that there might be in going somewhere else.”

It’s true. For a variety of reasons, some people have challenges arranging a sexual health clinic appointment or ordering a home-testing kit.

Webster stressed the importance of initiatives like National HIV Testing Day in helping tackle HIV stigma.

“It just needs to be part of our normal conversation.”

Check Greaterthan.org/Walgreens to find your nearest testing site. If you’re not able to go this Tuesday, Walgreens pharmacists will happily point you in the direction of free testing at other times of the year.

“Walgreens works with a number of partners to provide free HIV testing. To see if organizations in your area are offering free or reduced-cost HIV tests, visit gettested.cdc.gov.”

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