The Women’s Collective offers free HIV-antibody counseling and testing at our office, at partner agency sites, and at locations throughout Washington, D.C. through our mobile testing unit. By taking our testing service “on the road,” we are literally able to meet women and their partners where they are—in their neighborhoods and as they access services from other D.C. organizations. In order to determine where we’ll be offering testing throughout the city, we gather information from “gate keepers” (respected leaders in the community), ward mapping, epidemiological data, and staff to identify areas in which D.C. residents are at highest risk. Then we take our testing on the road.
Our work with the community doesn’t stop with an HIV test—we strive to meet other needs by providing referrals, as well as various incentives. Incentives both encourage individuals to get tested and help them meet individual needs—we vary our incentives depending on the needs we’re seeing out in the community. For example, we offer gift cards to local businesses, including Subway, Murrays, Giant, Dollar Tree, and McDonald’s. We also offer hygiene bags, which include toothpaste, toothbrushes, underwear, body wash, body lotions, and seasonal clothing items, and grocery bags of boxed and canned foods. In warmer weather, we offer TWC-branded clothing as an incentive such as a tank top and tights or a dress for getting tested. Anyone who refers a friend for testing receives a pair of flip-flops.
In reviewing client files as part of our quality assurance (QA) process, a pattern emerged that many individuals who received HIV testing frequently asked for referrals to a food bank. Our team met to discuss this trend and developed an incentive in response. We purchased bulk canned and boxed groceries (including pasta, mac and cheese, ramen noodles, mashed potatoes, sloppy Joe, chili, Vienna sausage, apple sauce, vanilla pudding, beef ravioli, and other nonperishable products) from a grocery store, which were divided up and placed in bags. We placed a bright fluorescent poster aboard our unit that reads, “Get a Bag of Groceries + a Free HIV Test.” This incentive directly meets need in the community we serve, especially among women who have children and limited household budgets.
Incentives are an integral recruitment strategy for HIV testing. Incentives have helped us to reach our monthly testing numbers and have surpassed our program testing objectives annually. They also provide us with an opportunity to address a widespread need in the D.C. community that directly ties into the crippling poverty that exists in some neighborhoods—primarily the neighborhoods that we serve. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified poverty as the single most important factor in whether inner-city heterosexuals are infected with the AIDS virus. Strikingly, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, 1 in 5 D.C. residents lived below poverty in 2012; 26% of Black residents lived in poverty compared with 7% of White residents. Among female-headed households, the poverty rate is a staggering 32%.
These statistics most certainly contribute to the high rate of HIV in D.C. as the lack of economic and educational resources and opportunities impacts the health and well-being of communities. HIV testing can be the gateway to other services and support that can contribute to ensuring individuals take control of their health and improve their quality of life. At The Women’s Collective we believe that we all can and must do more to support those in D.C. who need the most as resources continue to become scarce.
(Note: We will be conducting outreach in honor of National HIV Testing Day on Friday, June 27 with collaborative partners United Planning Organization and Physicians Rx Pharmacy in DC! Get the details here and join us!)