With HIV reaching epidemic rates in the District, health officials are urging residents to participate in National HIV Testing Day on Monday.
D.C. clinics and health groups have organized testing sites across the city and hope to reach out to a large swath of the community. National HIV Testing Day encourages people to get tested in an effort to help identify those who have the disease so they can receive treatment and prevent transmission.
the Whitman-Walker health clinic, which serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population, has been offering tests in the District since Wednesday. The clinic, at 1701 14th St. NW, is working with other organizations, such as Transgender Health Empowerment and the National Association for People With AIDS, and is sponsoring testing sites from Anacostia to Petworth to reach as many people as possible, said Megan Davies, the clinic’s executive director.
The clinic has not collaborated on a citywide scale in previous years. But a health department study released two weeks ago, indicating that HIV had reached epidemic rates in the District in 2009, motivated the change.
“This is bigger than just Whitman-Walker,” Davies said.
The clinic will be extending its hours to 7 p.m. Monday and will be operating at the Max Robinson Center, 2301 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.
Organizations offering the testing have aimed to make it as easy as possible and hope that the testing can be a bridge to getting those with the disease the help they need. The Community Education Group, which specializes in serving black communities at its location on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast, offers numerous services after the tests.
The test is done via an oral swab, and results are relatively quick. Those who test positive will have the opportunity to receive counseling and primary medical services, said Toni Young, director of the Community Education Group.
It is that kind of convenience that can help get people treated earlier for HIV, Young said, something that a recent National Institutes of Health study showed can significantly lower a person’s risk of transmission.
But for Young, it’s not just about individuals, because a high HIV presence can have wide-ranging societal effects.
“We’ve got to shift the community’s thinking towards this epidemic,” she said.
Young’s group is also sponsoring testing sites at the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Health and Human Services, and the administrative offices of the National Coalition of Negro Women.
The health department has also been working with community organizations to bring six testing sites to the city Monday. To get everyone to “know their status,” the department aims at the general population rather than specific ethnicities or sexual orientations.
In 2009, the disease affected more than 3 percent of District residents older than 12, according to the health department study. The study also cited programs such as needle exchanges for bringing down the overall number of new HIV cases in the same year.
The National Association of People With AIDS sponsored a conference Friday, during which members of Congress were tested to promote the initiative.