Harrisonburg Community Health Center Care Management is working to bring the importance of HIV testing back into focus.
On Monday, the nonprofit held a free HIV testing day in recognition of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, but only one person showed.
“It’s not really that surprising because it’s a personal thing and people are hesitant to show up to say they are here for a testing,” said Stacy Hansen, medical case manager. “We were hoping people would be more interested in finding out their status.”
According to HIV.gov, around 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and around 1 in 7 people with it are unaware they are infected. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
“HIV/AIDS have lost attention, and it’s important that we bring focus back to this epidemic,” said Kim Whetzel, a registered nurse and the director of care management. “We want to encourage clients to know their status.”
HCHC Care Management, formerly known as Valley AIDS Network, recently launched a multimedia educational platform to focus on the importance of HIV testing.
It is in collaboration with the Virginia Department of Health, Strength in Peers and the Harrisonburg Community Health Center.
“It was launched to inform people of the need for testing regardless of the self-perceived risk factors,” Whetzel said.
HIV testing is offered for free throughout the year. It involves a finger stick blood test, which gives results within 20 minutes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is recommended anyone between the ages of 13 and 65 be tested regardless of risk factors, which include IV drug use, unprotected sex and having multiple partners, among other things.
“HIV is considered a chronic illness now, but it’s treatable one pill a day,” Hansen said. “It’s important to be tested at least once in your lifetime or more if you are at higher risk of attracting HIV due to risky behaviors.”
Hansen said there needs to be more focus on HIV.
“I think for some people, they want to know but they don’t want to know,” she said. “With any kind of sexually transmitted disease, not just HIV, it’s scary.”
Around the world, 37 million people are living with HIV, according to HIV.gov.
Next year, World Aids Day will fall on a Monday, which Whetzel thinks will bring a higher turnout.
“I think because Thanksgiving was so late this year, it impacted the number of people that came out because they focused on the holidays instead of their own health care,” she said. “The national day fell on a Sunday, but it falling on a weekday could allow people to stop in because it won’t be so inconvenient.”
Whetzel said the nonprofit does more than to just give free testing.
It helps people who test positive for HIV to receive affordable medication.
“We are driven to help end this epidemic and help people in any way we can,” Whetzel said. “This is not an easy thing to face, but it’s important to be aware and focus on your health care.”