Free HIV tests available on campus for all
By Becca Carlson and Sean Minton
*This article originally appeared in The Corsair in March 2017.
At the beginning of 1980, AIDS was practically unheard of but by the end of 1981 50,280 cases of the disease had been reported throughout the United States. Closing out 1992, that number jumped to 202,520 people. This epidemic has dwindled to 39,513 as of 2016, but the need for testing is as important as ever.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website, of the estimated 850,000–950,000 people living with HIV in the U.S., “one-fourth are unaware that they have the virus.” Even more startling is that approximately 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year in the United States.
There is a confusion between AIDS and HIV. Many people believe that both are the same thing, but HIV is a virus and AIDS is the disease that results when HIV is left untreated.
Jenny Thomas of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) mans a mobile testing unit that is available at Pensacola State College on the 2nd Tuesday of every month. As Lead HIV Testing Counselor, Thomas parks at the Pensacola Main campus in Lot T, near buildings 11 and 13 to offer free HIV and Hepatitis C testing from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm.
The best thing about getting tested for HIV on campus is that it is simple, easy and most importantly it is free.
The process only takes around 5 minutes and the results are instant. One finger is pricked and a small sample of blood is taken. Personal questions are asked and then one receives their results.
For those who cannot afford to purchase condoms or are ashamed to buy condoms themselves, the AHF is glad to supply a care package of certain contraceptives.
Escambia County is in particular need of continual testing of sexually active individuals. In 2016, out of 5,429 people tested in the county, 45 received positive results.
“When somebody reacts positively on our unit, it is our goal to get them into care,” said Thomas. “They’re not going to be alone. It is our job to guide them through this change. Because it is going to change their life.”
A benefits counselor is on staff to assist those who have tested positive in getting the service they need. If a client is without insurance, Lutheran Services and Sacred Heart are available to assist through the Ryan White program. If qualified, clients receive free office visits.
AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs) information is also available through AHF. Medication has come a long way since the 80’s. No more outrageously expensive drug cocktails. “The HIV medication out there has extremely improved,” said Thomas.
Thomas suggests being tested every 6 months to one year while in an active relationship. If you have multiple partners, it is suggested to be tested every 3 to 6 months. Everyone participating in risky behavior is encouraged to test more frequently. Risky behavior includes multiple partners, not using protection and sharing needles.
The CDC also advises, “There is significant evidence that, when people learn they are living with HIV, they often reduce their risk behaviors and the likelihood of transmitting HIV to others.”
The Corsair surveyed 90 anonymous students about their sexual safety practices and general knowledge of HIV and AIDS. Out of those surveyed, 57% were sexually active. 53% of those that were sexually active always practice safe sex while 37% sometimes practiced safe sex and 10% never do.
“You’re not just sleeping with that one person. You’re sleeping with all his [or her] other partners as well,” said Thomas. “It’s good to know what your status is.”
There is a confusion between AIDS and HIV. Many people believe that both are the same thing, but HIV is a virus and AIDS is the disease that follows when HIV is left untreated.
Cost is often a concern and one of the most consistent deterrents for testing. “Especially in the vulnerable areas that we go testing at, they don’t have insurance, they don’t have a lot of money,” said Thomas. Thomas and the AHF offer these services free of charge.
Fear is the number one reason people are reluctant to be tested. Fear of the stigma and fear of the consequences.Out of the surveyed students, 42% said yes they have been tested, while 58% had not. “I don’t think they [know] that we have organizations out there willing to assist them. That’s what our job is,” said Thomas.
The Aids Healthcare Foundation can be found at 4300 Bayou Blvd #17D in Pensacola or call (850) 470-8071.
HIV is still a taboo topic to discuss. However, if people incorporated this important topic into their lives, less stigma and ignorance will continue to spread.
Thomas urges students,“Don’t be afraid to come and get tested.”