Pharmacists and Pharmacies Play a Vital Role in Helping to End the HIV Epidemic

Content From: LCDR Neelam (Nelly) Gazarian, PharmD, MS, AAHIVP, Senior Policy Analyst, Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: June 24, 20224 min read



June 27 is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) and getting tested is a critical step in preventing the spread of HIV. Approximately 1.2 million Americans have HIV but 1 in 8 of them is unaware of their status, and this means the virus can be unknowingly transmitted. The Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative is a bold yet achievable goal, developed by agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and centered around four key strategies: Diagnose, Treat, Prevent, and Respond to HIV. Testing is a cornerstone element of EHE, but it doesn’t just serve this national goal, “HIV Testing is Self-care,” which is the theme of this year’s NHTD. “Knowledge of status is the gateway to engaging in prevention or treatment services that enable individuals, regardless of their status, to live a long and healthy life,” says Harold J. Phillips, MRP, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. 

Pharmacies and pharmacists play a vital role in helping to end the HIV epidemic. Pharmacies are widespread and accessible in nearly every urban and rural community across America, and pharmacists are trusted health care professionals who are trained to provide discrete and knowledgeable care to their patients. Because of this, pharmacies can be leveraged to reach individuals disproportionately affected by HIV in confidential and non-stigmatizing ways. Last year, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) issued a Call to Action to pharmacies that identified several ways in which they could help stem the tide of HIV in America and we are pleased to announce that this year, Walgreens and CVS Health have answered that call and will be providing testing around NHTD. 

Walgreens has supported people living with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic more than 40 years ago and is working to expand the capacity of health care delivery systems to diagnose and prevent HIV. They do so by training their pharmacy staff on how to address the specific challenges faced by people living with HIV, supporting local and national HIV organizations, and by continuing to participate in ongoing research to help end the HIV epidemic. This year on Monday, June 27, Walgreens is teaming up with Greater Than AIDSExit Disclaimer, a public information initiative of the Kaiser Family Foundation, and with nearly 300 health departments and community organizations in more than 250 cities across 39 states to provide free, confidential HIV tests and on-the-spot results. No appointments will be necessary. “HIV testing is recommended as part of routine health care, yet many Americans are not getting tested as often as advised. As a result, many people living with HIV are unaware of their status,” said Kevin Ban, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Walgreens. On the day of testing, Walgreens will also provide on-site counsellors who will be able to answer questions about HIV prevention and treatment options, including PrEP, a medication that offers another effective means of reducing the risk of getting HIV. A list of participating Walgreens stores and testing hours for this year’s NHTD activation can be found hereExit Disclaimer.

CVS Health will also be offering testing this year in recognition of NHTD. To increase access to testing in geographic hotspots for HIV, CVS Health has forged a collaboration with Gilead Sciences to sponsor free HIV testing at participating MinuteClinic and CVS Pharmacy locations from June 29–July 13, 2022, in:

  • New York, NY
  • Miami, FL
  • Orlando, FL
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Houston, TX

This program will allow individuals in markets deemed Priority JurisdictionsExit Disclaimer for EHE to get a confidential HIV test at no cost to them. “Testing is the critical first step to HIV prevention and care and yet testing rates have plummeted in recent years, partly due to the ongoing pandemic,” said Drexel Shaw, MPH, National HIV Liaison for CVS Health. Shaw continued, “with this collaboration with Gilead, we can offer convenient, no-cost testing in communities with some of the highest HIV diagnosis rates in our country so that more people can learn their HIV status and take steps to protect themselves. Working together, we can end this epidemic.” Helping to increase the number of people getting tested for HIV and starting treatment or preventive medication is part of the goal for the CVS Health Equity ActionExit Disclaimer initiative, launched in 2021, which aims to close gaps in care for historically underserved populations.

As a Senior Policy Analyst, HIV Pharmacist, and the OASH Prevention lead, the involvement of Walgreens and now CVS Health is particularly exciting given the crucial and demanding role pharmacies have played in the COVID-19 pandemic. Pharmacies and pharmacists are crucial allies in the response to HIV and OASH has tried to brainstorm with them ways to navigate and overcome some of the challenges they face with testing. We are elated to have another pharmacy join in these efforts on NHTD and hope that more of these trusted community stakeholders will partner with us in the future to help bring an end to the HIV epidemic.