Dr. Mohammad N. Akhter rubs a swab on his gums for the HIV test after a press conference on the new HIV/AIDS testing initiative. (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Richard Campbell has been getting routine HIV testing during his annual physicals for the past six years.

On Wednesday, National HIV Testing Day, he decided to get tested again. “Why not?” he said. The disease does not discriminate based on age, said Campbell, 52, and it’s better to know now than later.

“This is the type of disease where it doesn’t matter if you feel safe because of your partner or what have you,” said Campbell, who works for the District’s Department of Employment Services. “It’s important for protection not just for yourself, but for your loved ones, family members or friends that you do the right thing for yourself and go and get tested.”

And the District is now make it easier for employees, like Campbell, to do the right thing: Testing is free.

The District’s departments of Health and Human Resources, along with union leaders, kicked off a campaign Wednesday with the goal of testing 35,000 city employees over the next three months. During that period, city employees who decide to get tested will first receive instructions on how to prevent infection.

WASHINGTON, DC -JUNE 27: Dr. Gregory Pappas is senior deputy director of the Department of Health's HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration. The new initiative is a part of DOH’s current “Ask for the Test!” campaign. (Mark Gail/THE WASHINGTON POST)

After that, testing will continue to be offered by itself.

The majority of people in the city who are HIV-positive are in the workforce and over 40, said Gregory Pappas, director of the city’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration.

“We’re making a lot of progress with HIV testing. We’re setting new records every year, but . . . unless a large number of people get tested, we won’t be able to get ahead of this epidemic,” Pappas said.

According to the city’s 2011 annual report, 14,465 D.C. residents were living with HIV or AIDS in 2010 — among the highest for any U.S. city. But the Health Department’s annual update also showed a drop in the overall number of new AIDS cases over four years and improvements in getting infected people into care quickly.

Mohammad N. Akhter, director of the city’s Department of Health, said the new initiative could save lives.

He said he hopes that people getting tested will help dispel the myths and stigma surrounding the virus and spread the idea that AIDS can often be managed like many long-term chronic diseases.

“What you don’t know is going to hurt you,” Akhter said.

Sandra Miller, 62, who works in the Employment Services Department, also was tested Wednesday. It’s crucial for people to understand the seriousness of the disease, she said, and to know that there’s help.

“If I’m going to encourage other people to do it and tell them it’s painless and easy to do, I figured it better start with me,” Miller said.

Other organizations in the District are working to spread the message year-round that it’s important to be tested for AIDS virus.

Darryl Moch, who helps run the health and wellness programming for D.C.-based InnerLight Ministries, said the HIV issue has been front and center for the church. Through a grant, area churches have been providing free HIV testing on the last Sunday of every month. He said the free testing has seen great turnouts.

“We’ve had uncharacteristically unusually high response,” Moch said. “Sometimes we’ve had to turn people away because they didn’t have enough testing kits.”