Dr. Patrick Sullivan, a professor at Emory University School of Public Health, created Testing Together several years ago as an innovative testing and prevention method for men who have sex with men.
The initiative allows health centers to test male couples together and then offer a customized prevention and counseling plan for them.
Sullivan and colleagues at the CDC found in 2009, that one- to two-thirds of new HIV diagnoses came from main partners among gay and bisexual male couples, and that many men in long-term same-sex relationships did not know their partners’ HIV status.
The initiative is modeled after a testing method employed in Africa.
“This testing had been going on for decades and wasn’t offered in the U.S. and especially not to male couples,” Sullivan said. “If you think about new infections and how many men are going from main partners and casual partners, almost all new HIV infections are coming from main partners. And that changed our thinking a little bit. We know that when male couples have one partner living with HIV, there is a 40-percent likelihood that the negative partner will acquire HIV.”
In March 2011, M.A.C. AIDS Fund provided start-up funding for a pilot of Testing Together in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, San Diego and Seattle. M.A.C. AIDS Fund has since provided about $1 million in funding to the initiative and it was launched in other cities, like Philadelphia, with high rates of HIV incidence, with more than 300 counselors at 73 testing sites in 21 cities trained.
More than 450 gay and bisexual male couples have learned their status together through Testing Together, with more than 8 percent of men testing positive.
The initiative was brought to the University of Pennsylvania in May 2012.
Annet Davis-Vogel, research associate for Penn’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Research Division, said the department has tested 10 couples through the effort.
Couples interested in participating can call the Research Division and schedule a date and time at their convenience. She added that the initiative is for all couples, regardless of length of time together.
Partners are screened separately to decide whether they are eligible to test together, and qualified partners will then be directed to take a survey together about their relationship, followed by joint counseling and testing. The service is free for both partners.
Sullivan said the management transition to CDC, which began in June but became official last week, will help the initiative to flourish.
“We needed to bring prevention services to scale because this service needs to be offered across the country, and the CDC has expertise in training capacity,” Sullivan said. “They will look for effective prevention services and will bring their resources to bring this to scale.”
Davis-Vogel noted that Testing Together is a good tool to help men get tested within a support system.
“It is for those who decide that they want to get tested together because they are at that point where they are willing to discuss HIV as a couple together, regardless of HIV status individually,” she said. “It takes those persons who are at a junction personally in their lives and as a couple to say, ‘I am willing for you to know my HIV status and I am willing to hear your HIV status regardless of what it is.’”
For more information on Testing Together, visit www.testingtogether.org.