For a teen, finding and getting to a testing facility can be a challenge all its own.
Ainka Gonzalez, prevention programs manager at AID Atlanta, said she has seen teens struggle to get tested simply because they can’t get transportation to a testing facility. For a high school student, teens must find a location that operates outside of school hours if they don’t want to involve their parents. And, if a teen tests positive for HIV, their parents may need to get involved anyway.
“Laws differ around the country, but usually if you do test positive for HIV and you’re underaged, a parent would have to consent for treatment,” Gonzalez said. “If a young person may be having other challenges at home, this of course will amplify it.”
Kaplan thinks easier access to testing is crucial. “If kids got to a place where they were routinely offered screening ... they wouldn’t struggle with ‘Where can I get tested? Who do I talk to about it?’ And a lot of the stigma would be eradicated,” he said.
The next hurdle is paying for treatment. Teens who are too young to have their own health insurance and young adults up to age 25 who are on a parent’s health insurance plan will likely need family support to pay for medication. Without insurance, they often need to contact the department of health—an option Traylor, whose medication runs $3,000 a month, finds “terrifying.”
“At one point, I was so afraid that I wasn’t going to get health insurance anymore that I stopped taking my medicine,” she said, and hoarded medication because she expected a month-long wait for a doctor’s appointment through the department of health.
To find HIV testing facilities in your area, go to HIVtest.cdc.gov.
The next generation
Traylor feels her HIV education in high school didn’t offer crucial information about testing facilities and local rates of infection—information you can find on CDC.gov.
“In school we learn(ed) that HIV can lead to AIDS and AIDS can lead to death. ... It’s a fear and that’s it.”
Today, Traylor is raising two healthy children with the help of her mother, and is educating them early about HIV.
The education starts at home, but it isn’t always easy. Traylor helped her 9-year-old son with a project on the stigma of HIV, but admitted she was nervous to talk to him about sex.
“I said, ‘If mommy had HIV, what would you do?’ He said he wouldn’t touch me, he wouldn’t kiss me, (or) hug me anymore.”
It opened the door for Traylor to talk to her son about how HIV is transmitted. Though she didn’t tell him her status, she explained to him that HIV and AIDS can’t be spread though common contact, like hugs and kisses.
“Then (he) said, “OK, Mom, I’ll hug you. And I’ll kiss you. I’ll still love you the same.”
By Sari Zeidler, CNN