About 1.1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV today; and about 15 percent of them (1 in 7) are unaware they are infected. Sonora Quest Laboratories is leading the way in efforts to end AIDS through discreet HIV and STD screenings. These efforts contribute to the Fast-Track Cities Initiative (FTCI) to help people know their HIV status. Sixteen percent (or 2,800) of Arizonans with HIV aren’t aware of their status, and the FTCI hopes to improve those numbers through a global partnership to strengthen HIV programs and leverage resources to end AIDS by 2030.

Sonora Quest Laboratories offers their My Lab ReQuest service which is designed to encourage early diagnosis and treatment of HIV.

Dr. Brian Koeneman, clinical director of molecular diagnostics, Sonora Quest Laboratories, said the My Lab ReQuest option for patients allows them to order tests themselves without a doctor’s orders. Those STD tests range from chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, syphilis, trichomoniasis and herpes. And patients can get an individual test for one or for a larger panel, Dr. Koeneman said. “I think one of the nicest things about this program is that it is fully transparent with pricing, you can go onto the website and see the pricing before you decide to order a test or tests.”

Dr. Brian Koeneman

Sonora Quest also partners with the Arizona Department of Health Services, by law they are required to report all HIV positive tests, Dr. Koeneman said. In addition, the state looks at the epidemiology of the results and follows up with the patients, he said.

“We’ve been working with the state and I think it’s what really separates Sonora Quest in terms of what we do for the community and that we can work with the state health department and look at the data and help support patients getting the information they need. We offer a data analytics team and they can help work with the state and provide assistance with data analysis.”

In addition, Phoenix and Tempe are Fast-Track Cities for HIV diagnosis and treatment. Phoenix joined in 2016 with then Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, and Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell recently announced Tempe is joining as one too, Dr. Koeneman said.

“The initiative to end AIDS is called the 90-90-90 initiative, with the goal to get 90 percent of people to know their HIV status, and for those that are positive and know they’re positive, we want to get 90 percent of them into treatment and retained in treatment. And of those in treatment will have viral suppression,” Dr. Koeneman said.

“The last number is 0, we want to eliminate stigma from being HIV positive. The city of Phoenix is working with the state health department and we’re getting close to the first 90, we want to know how many people out there know their status of HIV positive, and we’re estimating it’s close to 85 percent now.”

Once people get tested and know their status, they can begin treatment if necessary. Dr. Koeneman said new treatments are improving to the point that side effects are reduced and the effectiveness of treatment can be as little as six months. Patients work with their physician for their prescriptions, and most medications are oral, such as taking a pill a day, Dr. Koeneman said.

“Across the nation, the CDC is reporting that HIV prevalence is dropping. What’s more alarming for Arizona specifically is that HIV prevalence is increasing, so we’re going against the national trend,” Dr. Koeneman said. “I think that’s what’s exciting about these Fast-Track city initiatives, they’re raising awareness, increasing education and knowledge about getting tested, getting into treatment and getting that viral suppression.”

In addition, there are a lot of resources available on HIV.org and HIVAZ.org, so if someone gets their result back and is positive, they are encouraged to take that report to their physician to discuss treatment options, Dr. Koeneman said.

“With HIV, one of the things that’s coming out is called PrEP, or Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, where the HIV negative partner takes one pill a day to reduce their risk of becoming infected,” Dr. Koeneman said. “Combined with the HIV positive partner who takes HIV medication to keep an undetectable viral load, there is no risk of transmission of HIV. It helps educate that HIV is completely preventable today and in the case it is transmitted, you want to get into treatment quickly.”