According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 200,000 Americans are currently unaware they’re living with HIV, and local HIV/AIDS service organizations are planning a host of events next week to reduce that figure.
In honor of National HIV Testing Day, June 27, several agencies are staging free testing events to encourage Philadelphians to get tested and know their status.
Gay and bisexual men make up more than half of new HIV infections, and the CDC recommends that this population get tested annually; however, the agency reports that about a third of the community has not been tested in the previous year.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said all individuals, regardless of risk factors, should verify their HIV status next week.
“On National HIV Testing Day, I urge all Americans to get tested for HIV and to encourage friends and family to do the same,” Fenton said. “No single step can do more to stop the spread of HIV and improve the health and prolong the lives of those who are infected.”
On Testing Day, Philadelphia FIGHT will offer testing at three local churches: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, 6671 Germantown Ave.; 12:30-3 p.m. at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, 2800 W. Cheltenham Ave.; and 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Bright Hope Baptist Church, 1620 N. 12th St.
FIGHT development director Mark Seaman said such faith-based communities can be influential in spreading the message about the importance of HIV testing.
“Philadelphia FIGHT believes that the slowing of the spread of HIV requires the education of the general public, and that faith leaders have the ability to use their voices to ensure that everyone gets tested, those living with HIV seek treatment and those not exposed to the virus stay healthy,” Seaman said.
He noted that the agency’s Faith Advisory Board — which includes former mayor Wilson Goode Sr., Bishop Audrey Bronson and the Rev. Dr. Marguerite Handy — will continue to network with faith communities to enhance HIV prevention and education.
“We will be working with this board a great deal in the coming months to keep the faith community engaged and committed to promoting HIV testing and connecting folks to care,” he said.
Nishika Vidanage, FIGHT coordinator of HIV counseling and testing, said the agency will have four certified staffers on hand — two at St. Michael’s and one at each of the other sites — to conduct the tests.
“I think we’ll get at least 100 people between the three sites,” Vidanage said. “And if we can get even more, that’ll be great. We’ll welcome them until the end of the day.”
From 10 a.m.-2 p.m., Penn Community Practice at Presbyterian Hospital will offer testing services at the hospital’s emergency room at 38th Street and Powelton Avenue, and from noon-5 p.m., BEBASHI will provide testing at a barbeque, with a DJ and dancing, at Hunting Park Recreation Center, 1101 W. Hunting Park Ave.
Mazzoni Center will deploy its mobile testing unit outside of Philly AIDS Thrift, 514 Bainbridge St., from 1-6 p.m. for testing, as well as pre- and post-test counseling, risk assessment and information on Mazzoni’s HIV services.
“Our role is to support and assist people in finding feasible ways to reduce their risk for contracting or transmitting HIV,” said Mazzoni Center Counseling, Testing and Referral STD Services Manager Rashita Hurst. “We’re pleased to provide this service on National HIV Testing Day at the Philly AIDS Thrift location, which allows us to reach people of all ages and diverse communities.”
For a full list of local testing sites throughout the end of the month, visit www.fight.org/aem/.