The Paradox of HIV Testing

June 27th marked National HIV Testing Day, an annual call to get tested and a reminder that there are more ways than ever to get an HIV test. Testing is available at local clinics, from your health care provider, at home, or from a local organization. For DC residents, The Women’s Collective (TWC) fills a need in the community by offering testing that is fast, free, confidential, and easily accessible to people who need it most.

About 1.1 million people in the United States have HIV, and 1 in 7 of them don’t know it (CDC, 2017). The District leads the nation in the rate of HIV infection, with the chance of a person ever being infected with HIV in their lifetime at 1-in-13 in the District, compared to Maryland, where 1-in-49 residents have a chance of being diagnosed HIV-positive. We are lucky to live in a world where HIV care management exists. If you do test positive, you can still live a long, productive, and fulfilling life.

The Women’s Collective promotes HIV testing. But the reality is it is testing with the goal of identifying new positives…and that means one more woman living with HIV. Enter the paradox of HIV testing.

hiv-testing-1-in-7-sm-webready

Hesitant to get tested? Here’s why you should.

Knowing your HIV status is important for your health. If you are living with HIV, you should start treatment as soon as possible. HIV medicine can keep you healthy for many years and greatly reduces your chance of transmitting the virus to others if you take it the right way every day. And if you’re HIV-negative, you can take steps to prevent HIV. It’s important to get an HIV test at least once a year and more often than that, depending on your risk behavior and how much you may be coming into contact with HIV (potentially every 3 to 6 months). The Women’s Collective provides prevention recommendations and care management tailored to each individual’s specific risk and needs.

During our testing events for National HIV Testing Day, TWC staff spoke to several women about their motivation for getting tested and their testing experience. Here’s some common reasons:

  • Worry their partners may be engaging in high-risk behaviors. Several women said that they wanted to get tested because although their own risk behaviors were low, they weren’t confident in their partner’s’ behavior. For example, they were concerned their partner may have other partners. These women knew health and wellbeing was in the hands of just one person– themselves– so they took the test to put themselves first.
  • Concern about HIV contraction from sharing needles. Heroin drug users, who reflect the epidemic in the District, are at a higher risk for contracting HIV because of needle contamination. Several women who got tested were heroin users, and knew this was one way to reduce their harm. If you do use, be sure to get tested regularly and avoid sharing needles. DC-based agency, HIPS, offers free, clean syringes.
  • It’s quick and easy. TWC has an Outreach Team that goes out into the community and “pops up” for convenient testing via its mobile van. The testing van visits different locations throughout the city, so you don’t have to worry about traveling somewhere to get tested, or scheduling it. Testers found the new HIV rapid testing to be quicker and easier than they expected it to be!

Share your story

Do you have an experience with getting tested for HIV you want to share? What you share may inspire other women to take that last step to putting themselves first and choosing health and wellness.

  • What motivated you to get tested?
  • What obstacles and fears did you have to overcome to take the test?
  • How was your testing experience with TWC?
  • What would you say to someone who was considering taking the test, but unsure?

Leave a comment below or contact us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Outreach in DC: Meeting Community Needs and Testing for HIV

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.

mobile_van_testing_1024x683Our 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!)

It’s National Women’s Health Week!

NWHW-logo

This week is National Women’s Health Week (#NWHW) sponsored by the Office on Women’s Health. The goal is to empower women to make their health a priority. National Women’s Health Week also serves as a time to help women understand what it means to be well.

We know that women frequently put their own needs behind those of their families—including the need for comprehensive and quality health care. Moreover, 80% of mothers assume responsibility for their children’s medical visits and are the drivers of their family members and extended family members accessing care. This week, take the time to put your own health care needs first!

Now that the Affordable Care Act has been fully implemented, be sure to take advantage of the myriad of covered services:

–          Routine anemia screenings for pregnant women

–          Breast Cancer Genetic Test Counseling (BRCA) for women at higher risk of breast cancer

–          Mammography screenings for women over 40

–          Blood pressure and cholesterol screenings

–          Breastfeeding support and counseling for pregnant and nursing women

–          Cervical cancer screening

–          Immunizations

–          Contraception

–          Domestic violence screening and counseling

–          Osteoporosis screening

–          HPV DNA testing

–          STI screening and counseling – including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV

If you want to learn more, stop by HealthCare.gov and be sure to check with your insurance carrier to verify your coverage!