Last week I reported on how The AIDS Health Foundation (AHF) launched its second testing caravan across America. AHF received encouraging responses from more than 500 students when they conducted testing on historically black colleges in the south.
“AIDS Healthcare Foundation is sponsoring this national ‘Testing America’ tour as a collaborative effort to raise awareness and reduce the stigma associated with HIV testing.
These tests were conducted by Azul Mares-Del Grasso and Eric Boyd. As they continue their journey across America they are discovering how the status of HIV/AIDS is a cause for concern.
There are approximately 1.1 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. More than 468,000 of the group are living with an AIDS-defining illness. And an estimated 21% do not know they are infected (down from 25% in 2003).
In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended routine HIV testing for all who are sexually active. Sadly, that recommendation has not been widely followed or implemented. This tour is demonstrating just how easy HIV testing can be accomplished. At each stop they are hosting or participating in free mobile HIV testing events to raise awareness. “After six months on the road, our ‘Testing America’ tour culminates, after 17,000 miles in 48 states, with a major testing event in New York City on Sunday, June 27th—National HIV Testing Day.” said Azul.
The testing van left Columbia, South Carolina March 5th, their 18th stop. Our readers can accompany the AHF testers on a virtual companion tour by visiting: www.freehivtest.net/testingusablog/.
On the drive from Los Angeles to Seattle the mobile received positive responses. The team was encouraged by the drivers that slowed down so they can read the AHF message which read, “Safe, Easy, and Free. The only way to know is to get tested.”
When AHF arrived in Seattle, they partnered with the Multicultural Center of Seattle and Gay City http://www.gaycity.org/ . The center provided them with testers and outreach volunteers at Cal Anderson Park. During the visit the team experienced the unequal conditions and the challenges faced by low income communities that lack health insurance.
On January 11th the team pulled into Portland, Oregon and teamed with employees of Cascade AIDS Project. The Portland HIV prevention workers said the awareness of risk is still a major barrier. They reported that people still connect HIV with an identity, rather than risk behaviors, which make it so much easier to believe. They found that some people are walking around thinking the disease won’t affect them because they “are not the kind of person who gets HIV.” AHF is educating everyone that “anyone and everyone can contract the disease because the disease can move across cultural, class and ethnic lines,” said Azul.
“It is crucial that people know their HIV status and learn how to avoid becoming infected with HIV; or if they are infected, know their status, and seek medical treatment, if needed,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
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