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Free national HIV testing tour launches in Seattle
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Free national HIV testing tour launches in Seattle

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) partnered with Gay City Health Project and the Center for Multicultural Health to kick-off a 48 state mobile tour of free HIV testing. On January 6-7, Seattleites could stop by the AHF's "Testing America" mobile HIV testing van, parked by the south side of Cal Anderson Park, to know their HIV status. Members from Seattle organizations, Entre Hermanos and the HIV vaccine trial unit Hope Takes Action, were also on hand to educate the public on the importance of HIV/AIDS awareness.

"AHF launched 'Testing America,' our second HIV testing tour, as an effort to raise local and national awareness about the importance and ease of HIV testing, and to challenge attitudes about moving toward a streamlined model of HIV testing and counseling nationwide," AHF officials told SGN.

The organization's recent and ambitious 14 city AHF "Magic Johnson HIV Testing Caravan" in mid-2009 was a major success. Building on the momentum, AHF officials told SGN the "Testing America" tour is a six month, 48 state cross country tour. The mobile unit, a large caravan, is a state-of-the-art unit manned by Azul Mares-DelGrasso, field services manager, and Eric Boyd, mobile testing unit program manager.

"Working with respected local community partners like Gay City Health Project and the Center for Multicultural Health, we plan on demonstrating just how easy HIV testing can be," said Mares-DelGrasso. "After six months on the road, our 'Testing America' tour will culminate with a major testing event in New York City on Sunday, June 27 - National HIV Testing Day."

DelGrasso said for each state they visit, they work closely with local HIV/AIDS organizations to find out the best location for the mobile unit to park, help get the word out, and because "we are a guest in their city and there is a real benefit when everyone works together."

In 2006, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began recommending routine HIV testing for all people ages 13-64, a recommendation that, according to AHF officials, has not been widely implemented to date.

The free HIV test conducted inside the "Testing America" mobile unit are performed by certified testing counselors, using two different types of tests. The first, Clearview COMPLETE HIV 1-2 is a single use, self-contained closed system for collection, processing and analysis of a whole blood, serum or plasma sample for the detection of HIV 1 and HIV 2 antibodies in as little as 15 minutes. The second, OraQuick ADVANCE, provides results in 20 minutes, enabling patients to learn their status in a single visit and allows HIV positive patients to be connected to care immediately. This test is also approved for oral fluid, plasma, finger stick or venipuncture whole blood specimens. According to AHF, both tests are 99.9% accurate.

William Fowler was the first Seattle resident to get the "Testing America" free HIV test on January 6. "Knowing your HIV status is required where I work," he told SGN. "I would get tested even if it wasn't a work requirement. I think it is extremely important to know your status. If you are positive, then you have all the resources provided for care and counseling right here."

According to an HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet produced by the Kaiser Family Foundation "The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in the United States," the CDC reports that there are approximately 1.1 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., more than 468,000 of whom are living with an AIDS-defining illness. Among the 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS, an estimated 21% do not know they are infected. According to the study, many people living with HIV are diagnosed late in their illness; in 2006, 36% received an AIDS diagnosis within one year of testing HIV positive.

"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, AHF president. "AHF is proud to spearhead this national 'Testing America' tour as a collaborative effort to raise awareness - and reduce stigma - around HIV testing."

During the six month testing tour, AHF will present $1,000 grants to each of the local partners they collaborate with along the way. In addition, throughout the course of the cross country tour, HIV testing counselors will supply a steady stream of updates, videos and images via new media: YouTube, Facebook and Twitter postings from along the route, interviews with local partners, government officials and, when appropriate and available, interviews with people who were tested on the mobile unit. To follow the "Testing America" tour on these social media outlets, visit www.freehivtest.net for more information.

AHF is a global organization providing cutting-edge medicine and advocacy to over 100,000 people in 22 countries. It is the nation's largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care. Since 1987, AHF has cared for thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

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