OPINION: From Cameroon to South Los Angeles—Get tested on National HIV Testing Day

HIV testingby Marcel Fomotar, M.A., MSN

A few years ago, I traveled from my home country of Cameroon to South Los Angeles to pursue a career in nursing as my contribution to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic. My dear aunt fought a long and hard battle with AIDS and in her last moments, she told me that her remaining days were filled with light and happiness because of the kindness of her nurses.

It is with that overpowering memory that I changed my original career path and ventured to the United States to pursue a career in nursing.  I chose Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science (CDU), a health professions school dedicated to transforming the lives of underserved communities. They train health professionals who promote wellness and provide care with excellence and compassion – exactly the kind of health care leader I wanted to become. I wanted health to become a means of empowerment for the community and improve the overall health of a home, whether that be in CDU’s community of South Los Angeles or abroad in Cameroon.

During my time as a student, I worked on the CDU HIV Mobile Testing unit. We visited community events, schools, and farmers’ markets to provide HIV screenings for those who truly need it and wouldn’t otherwise know where to go. I was honored to work alongside my professors, who are leaders in providing primary prevention and HIV/AIDS education and awareness to Los Angeles County.

Through this outreach and my research on campus, I learned just how necessary it is to get past the stigma of HIV and get tested. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, more than 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., and an estimated 18% do not know they are infected. The numbers are consistent with Los Angeles County, where there are an estimated 58,000 people living with HIV, and of these, 10,500 are undiagnosed and are unaware of their status.

Most say they do not get tested because they do not consider themselves at risk. This is an issue, particularly for communities of color. African Americans comprised 44% of new HIV infections and Hispanics/Latinos comprised 21% of the new HIV infections in 2013. It is through lack of resources and knowledge of existing resources that they are not being tested and treated

The first step to reversing this epidemic is to know your status. With that knowledge, you can seek medical care if needed and, once you get into treatment early, you can live a healthy and productive life. People often live long, fulfilling lives after receiving an HIV diagnosis.

My main goal is to continue my research and work with communities that otherwise would not feel comfortable getting tested. That is why on National HIV Testing Day I join others across this county to encourage people of all races, countries of origin, gender and sexual orientation to “Take the Test, Take Control.”

I am excited to serve those who need it most with the quality care they deserve. My aunt taught me that and CDU reinforced it.

Find your testing site here or learn about other testing options, such as at-home kits, here.

Marcel Fomotar, M.A., MSN, is a graduate of the Mervyn M. Dymally School of Nursing at Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and will attend the University of San Diego to pursue a PhD in Fall 2013. 

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