ATLANTA -- He is at peace, now.
Rashad Santiago, 25, is always telling people to get the blood test for HIV. He works in a pharmacy in the West End of Atlanta. He counsels those who test negative to get tested every six months. He provides life-saving medicines to people who test positive.
But Rashad Santiago's secret was that he was too scared to get tested, himself.
"Last Tuesday, actually."
Rashad Santiago laughed with relief.
He tested negative.
"I feel good about it now," he said Friday evening. "But during and before, I was extremely nervous. It's a nerve-wracking experience" emotionally, not medically. "But I'm so, so glad I did it."
He said he is finally practicing what he's been preaching.
"I just want everyone to get tested. I think this is extremely important. Even if you do have it, it's not a death sentence. You can take medication, you can live a long, healthy life."
He is well aware of the alarming numbers announced this week by the CDC in Atlanta:
Males in their teens and early 20s now comprise one-fourth of all new HIV infections every year.
And 60 percent of them don't know they're positive, many of them are too scared to get tested.
The Georgia Department of Public Health just received a grant of $2.5 Million a year, for three years, from the CDC to promote HIV testing, and to help people who test positive get the treatments, the medicines, that will save their lives.
The Director of Health Protection for the Department of Public Health, J. Patrick O'Neal, M.D., said Georgia is one of eight states that received the grant.
"Georgia is very fortunate" to receive the grant, he said. "The good news is that when patients are effectively being treated with those drugs, not only do they have better outcomes, but they reduce their ability to transmit the disease by as much as 95 to 96 percent.... We have the resources to turn this epidemic around."
"People need to realize sometimes they can be infected even after they test negative," Santiago said. "Sometimes it takes up to five or ten weeks to show up in your system, so it's just important to get tested every six months... It's great to get tested. If I did it, anyone can do it."
Dr. O'Neal said that in two to three years, "I hope that I'm able to see that we've tested a lot more folks, and identified those that are HIV positive, that we've gotten them into care, and that we're actually on the verge of seeing the opportunity to stop this epidemic."
Link: Georgia Department of Public Health HIV Unit
Link: HIV/AIDS Prevention