D.C. is one of the areas hardest hit by HIV with an infection rate of 27 percent – comparable to some developing nations.
In an effort to combat the disease, one group is raising some eyebrows by taking their work to the streets. They are testing teens and young adults, then revealing their results on public sidewalks.
In Metro Center, the Norfolk-based organization, “TeenAIDS-PeerCorps” turned a public sidewalk into an outdoor health clinic, testing teens and young adults for HIV.
The group hopes that this free testing will raise awareness and reduce stigma associated with HIV. Testing participant and medical student Ashley Bryant said: “It’s good to know your status every chance you get and it’s free. It’s free testing so why not get tested?”
With parental permission, 15-year-old Kaden Girard got tested too. Her mother, Doris Miller, said that there was nothing shameful about getting tested for a virus that could kill you.
“I think it’s important for my kids to feel comfortable with any kind of STD testing,” she said.
Though it might be legal, is public HIV testing ethical?
Executive Director of TeenAIDS-PeerCorps Dr. John Chittick says that he is always on-site, but that his youth volunteers are not medical or mental health professionals.
And while none of the participants at this particular location tested positive, what if they had?
TeenAIDS-PeerCorps member Candice Crawford said that sometimes there are concerns that they met not be prepared to handle that kind of situation. But telling those who may test positive that her uncle also has HIV/AIDS and that they aren’t alone is one way she plans on breaking the news.
The group emphasizes that with OraSure tests, there is always a small chance of a false positive. However, they are ready to provide resources and referrals for follow-up testing and counseling.
In D.C., Whitman-Walker Health specializes in HIV/AIDS testing and treatment. In response to this public testing initiative, WWH Director of Community Health Meghan Davies said, “Ideally, we believe that an HIV test should be accompanied by pre- and post-test counseling about HIV, risk factors, prevention education, and quick connection to medical care if the test is a preliminary positive.”
“Whether that is done in a medical setting or not is less important,” Davies continued. “What is important is making people aware of their HIV status and getting them into care as soon as possible if they are positive.”
Meanwhile, DC Department of Health Public Information Officer Najma Roberts said, “We encourage all sexually active persons to get HIV testing at least once a year. Ideally, of course, a clinical or more formal medical setting is best.”
“However, if the only way to get someone to take an HIV test is in a more informal and public setting than that is certainly better than not knowing your status,” Roberts concluded.