Local Health Organizations Promote National HIV Testing Day on June 27

South Carolina Sits in the Top 10 for New HIV Rates of Diagnosis in the Country

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Thursday, June 27, marks the fifth anniversary of Charleston’s joining the Fast Track Cities Network to End HIV. As a “Fast-Track city,” Charleston is committed to achieving the 90-90-90 targets of 90% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status, 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status on treatment, and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads by 2030.  Progress has been made over the last five years, but work still needs to be done.  It is estimated that currently, 16% of people living with HIV in the Charleston area are unaware of their status, 26% need connection to medical care, and 13% are not yet virally suppressed. 

According to Mayor Cogswell, “Charleston remains committed to the goal of achieving the 90-90-90 target. Awareness, treatment, and suppression can change lives, and by 2030, we hope to meet our target. If we work together, we can make this a reality and help change lives in our city.”

Why June 27? June 27 is also National HIV Testing Day, a day first observed in 1995 and designed to encourage people to get tested for HIV, know their status, and get linked to care and treatment. The theme for 2024, “Level up your self-love: check your status,” emphasizes valuing yourself, showing yourself compassion and respect, and honoring your health needs with self-love. Knowing your HIV status helps you choose options to stay healthy.

Multiple organizations are working to promote National HIV Testing Day for the entire Lowcountry community.

“This awareness day is significant because South Carolina ranks in the top 10 states or areas of new HIV diagnoses per 100,000 people.  Furthermore, of those top 10 states and areas, 8 out of 10 are in the Deep South.  51% of all new HIV diagnoses occur in the southern portion of the country, while only 38% of the population lives here. If we hope to end this epidemic, we must remove the barriers to testing, eliminate the stigma surrounding this conversation, and help people know their status so they can know their options,” says Bradley Childs, Chief Executive Officer of Palmetto Community Care.

Louisa Ramirez, SC DHEC STI/HIV Community Engagement Specialist, Tri-County SHAPE Director, says, “Knowing best practices and resources is key to staying sexually healthy, especially in an area affected by high rates of STIs and HIV. That’s why SC DHEC has partnered with numerous organizations in the Charleston-Berkeley-Dorchester area to form Tri-County SHAPE (Sexual Health Awareness, (STI) Prevention and Education). As a sexual health coalition, Tri-County SHAPE aims to empower individuals to find out their status, knowing that no matter the result, there are options ready to keep them healthy and safe. To encourage everyone to take that first step, SC DHEC will be offering free testing on June 25th in honor of National HIV Testing Day at health departments throughout the Lowcountry.”

“Charleston Pride recognizes the vital importance of routine HIV and STI testing in our community. Regular testing is crucial for individual health and plays a significant role in preventing the spread of these infections. By getting tested regularly, we can ensure early detection, timely treatment, and support for those affected. Our collective responsibility is to promote a culture of sexual health and well-being where everyone feels empowered to prioritize their health. Let us commit to regular testing and create an informed, healthy, and resilient community.”

Multiple factors contribute to the heavy burden of HIV in the South.  The stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS is pervasive and detrimental.  Often connected to the stigma surrounding sexual orientation, substance abuse, poverty, and sex work play vital factors in a person’s willingness to disclose their status, seek testing or preventative services, and access healthcare. 

Regina Duggins, CEO of Charleston Black Pride, says, “Best practices such as the use of testing and the availability of educational resources imply that these key first steps to HIV care and early diagnosis/detection for African Americans are leading to life-saving treatments. Lack of health insurance, racial bias, lower median incomes, and the individual’s residence location makes it more difficult for Black Americans who are already likely to die at a higher rate than their White counterparts.”

Sadly, negative stigma is not the only barrier that exists in our state.  Access to healthcare is made more challenging for those living without insurance or are underinsured, those living outside urban centers like Charleston, and those living at or below the federal poverty line.  Lack of public transportation, longer travel time, and the reality of reduced availability of social services act like adverse compounding interest for those living with and at risk for HIV. 

In support of National HIV Testing Day, the following area service providers will offer free HIV testing to community members:

  • On Thursday, June 27, Palmetto Community Care is offering a $25 gift card to anyone who comes in for testing at one of 2 locations:  Walmart on Rivers Avenue, 10:00am – 4:00pm OR PCC’s Main Office at 5064 Rivers Avenue, 8:30am – 6:30pm
  • On Saturday, June 29, at Mt. Moriah Baptist Church (7396 Rivers Ave) from 10:00am – 2:00pm.
  • Palmetto Community Care also offers free testing without an appointment from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays and from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. To celebrate Pride month, everyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+ and comes in for testing will be entered to win a $100 gift card.  Winners will be chosen weekly.
  • Free HV/STI Testing at DHEC locations around the state.  Please call 1-855-472-3432 to schedule a test.

Learn more: For more information about HIV testing and local HIV testing sites, call DHEC’s STD/HIV Hotline at 1-800-322-2437, visit DHEC’s website at www.scdhec.gov/stdhiv, or visit https://palmettocare.org.