In any war, intelligence is crucial. Certainly the axiom holds in the District's war against HIV, where one of the most crucial bits of intelligence is simply knowing one's HIV serostatus. On that front, D.C. is making progress.
''From 2006 to 2010, D.C. nearly tripled the number of publicly supported HIV tests from 42,000 to 110,000,'' according to the city's latest HIV report, released June 15. ''Overall, the Department of Health is encouraged that expanded testing efforts … and routine testing in medical settings reached many early in their infection and those who were unaware of their diagnosis.''
It's the sort of intelligence that helps people manage their infections, lower their viral loads and amend their behaviors to prevent further infections. And June 27 marks the perfect occasion for everyone to join the effort. It's National HIV Testing Day.
''There are some areas, including the District, where awareness of the need to get tested is improving,'' says Peter Kronenberg, vice president for communications at the Silver Spring-based National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA), the organization that launched this particular testing effort in 1995. ''Certainly the District health authorities, the organizations on the ground, are working very hard to keep things moving in that direction. At the same time, the two populations that are least likely to know that they are HIV-positive – because they are least likely to seek out testing – are young gay men and urban people of color.''
While testing opportunities abound in the District, the days leading up to and including June 27 increase those opportunities substantially, primarily using a 20-minute, oral-swab test from OraSure Technologies. Among the primary organizations leading the charge for additional testing to mark the occasion is Whitman-Walker Health, founded in 1978 as a gay men's STD clinic, partnering with groups such as AmeriCorps and the HIV Working Group at The Center, the area's LGBT community center.
''At Whitman-Walker, we offer pre- and post-test counseling that includes education about how to prevent infection with HIV,'' Justin Goforth, Whitman-Walker's director of community health, was quoted as saying in a release announcing the organization's expanded testing ahead of National HIV Testing Day. ''This is a prime opportunity, regardless of the outcome of the test, to reach people who may be at high risk for HIV infection with the information and the tools they need to stop the spread of HIV. We hope that they will use that information to no only protect themselves but to educate their family and friends on how to prevent infection.''
Preventing infections in D.C. is particularly crucial, in that the District has the country's highest infection rate, 3.2 percent. Other local organizations ramping up for National HIV Testing Day are La Clinica del Pueblo/Mpoderate!, offering a day of workshops; Us Helping Us, with a catered testing event from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at its Petworth offices; and Metro TeenAIDS, holding a basketball tourney and pool party Saturday, June 25, at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center from noon to 5 p.m., free to all, with food, prizes, entertainment and, of course, HIV testing.
While not specifically part of National HIV Testing Day, Metro TeenAIDS is also partnering with the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL) to hold an HIV town-hall meeting for D.C. area youth. The forum is intended to gather youths' thoughts on HIV/AIDS ahead of the International AIDS Conference in D.C. in July 2012. The Thursday, June 30, event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at Metro TeenAIDS, 651 Pennsylvania Ave. SE.
For a list of Whitman-Walker's expanded testing marking National HIV Testing Day, call 202-745-7000 or visit whitman-walker.org. For more about offerings at La Clinica del Pueblo, 2831 15th St. NW, call 202-462-4788 or visit lcdp.org. For Us Helping Us, 3636 Georgia Ave. NW, call 202-446-1100 or visit uhupil.org. For Metro TeenAIDS, call 202-543-8246 or visit metroteenaids.org. For SMYAL, call 202-546-5940 or visit smyal.org. For several other testing opportunities, visit the Metro Weekly Community Calendar.