WILMINGTON, Del. (AP)—Bryonna Tunnell, 22, usually takes an HIV test every six months at her doctor’s office, just to be safe.
“It’s better to know than not know,” she said.
So when Tunnell, a pharmacy technician at the Walgreen store at Ninth and North Market streets in Wilmington, heard she could get the test for free at the store Friday, she couldn’t pass up the convenience.
Several other people came for the test, too, the first time HIV testing and counseling has been available in a Delaware pharmacy. Walgreen, the Delaware HIV Consortium and other groups sponsored the event to draw attention to a new state testing law and World AIDS Day, which is today.
The new law, passed in June, makes tests for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, “just a part of your routine battery of medical tests,” said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the state Division of Public Health.
The law follows a 2006 recommendation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggested letting patients “opt out” of the test instead of making them request it. Delaware is one of the last states to pass such a law, officials said.
“We all should know our cholesterol levels, we all should know our blood pressure, and we all should know our HIV status,” Rattay said.
Jon Reitz, Walgreen’s pharmacy director, said the company would like to start regularly offering HIV testing and counseling at Walgreen stores, though there are no specific plans to do so.
Orasure Technologies provided free oral testing kits for Friday’s event, said John Hinkson, communications manager for the Delaware HIV Consortium. Anyone testing positive with an oral test should get a blood test to confirm the result, he said.
Last year, 112 people in Delaware were diagnosed with HIV, down from 182 in 2005, Rattay said. As of the end of October, 116 people had tested positive this year.
Making HIV tests routine should help reduce their stigma and make both doctors and patients more comfortable discussing HIV and AIDS, said Peter Houle, executive director of the Delaware HIV Consortium. The nonprofit group will distribute a brochure to Delaware doctors explaining the law and how to talk to patients about the test.
Gov. Jack Markell and Wilmington Mayor James M. Baker joined Houle and officials from Walgreen and other organizations at the pharmacy. Markell said the annual event helps keep AIDS in the public eye, but it is the year-round work of advocates that makes a difference in halting the spread of the disease.
“This isn’t a one-day-a-year issue,” Markell said.
In Delaware, 1,430 people are living with HIV, and 2,328 people are living with AIDS, according to state figures. Rattay said 46 people in Delaware died of AIDS-related illnesses last year.
African-Americans are at a disproportionate risk of HIV and AIDS, making up 61 percent of those living with the disease, state figures show. The most common way of contracting the disease is through male homosexual contact (about 35 percent). Heterosexual contact is second (25 percent).
Tunnell said the pharmacy specializes in serving people with HIV and AIDS because of its location in downtown Wilmington. About 4 out of every 10 Delaware residents living with HIV or AIDS resides in Wilmington, state figures show.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day was “Getting to Zero,” an effort to achieve zero AIDS-related deaths, zero new infections and zero stigma attached to testing and treatment, Hinkson said.
Worldwide, infection rates have fallen 20 percent in the past decade, and AIDS-related deaths are down 25 percent in the past six years, according to a recent United Nations report.
But many nations still spend too little on prevention and treatment, the report found, and public knowledge is still lacking. One out of every five people with HIV in the United States are unaware they are infected, according to the CDC.
“The good news is we can win the fight against HIV and AIDS, but it’s going to be a tough battle,” Hinkson said.