Students put routine and personal health before stigma Tuesday by participating in free HIV testing at The Wellness Resource Center.
The Director of the Well, Linda Hancock, said The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular sexually transmitted diseases screening for all individuals but some have a higher risk than others including younger people who are more sexually active. She said the staff at The Well hope to eliminate students’ apprehension to testing because of negative connotations and encourage regular screenings.
“(Getting screened annually) is just a reasonable thing to do in the year 2010,” Hancock said.
According to a 2009 Quarterly Surveillance Report by the Virginia Department of Health, an estimated 3,485 HIV and AIDS cases were documented in Richmond.
The Well hosted two free HIV testing days last semester, Hancock said. About 96 people were tested on the first testing day and about 54 on the second.
Hancock said the screening process is made easy and completely confidential for students. Those looking to get tested follow these steps:
- Walk in.
- Fill out the standard forms.
- Talk with counselors who explain the testing process.
- Do the oral swab.
- Wait 20 minutes for the oral swab to be processed.
- Receive results.
Hancock said students can return to get results the same day if time is an issue.
Project REACH (Rams Educating About College Health) conducted activities and provided STD and HIV information for students while they waited for results.
Hancock said The Well partners with Fan Free Clinic, a Richmond based community clinic, to provide free oral HIV testing several times throughout the semester.
Senior Prevention Specialist and HIV Testing Coordinator for Fan Free Clinic, Susan Tellier said the free testing days are alternatives to testing through University Student Health Services, which are available daily but now charge for STD screening because of budget constraints. HIV testing at Health Services requires a blood draw and is $15. The Well requires a mouth swab and produces results in 20 minutes.
“As a result of (Health Services) charging, there’s going to be a lot of folks that may need a test and may opt not to to get a test because of financial reasons,” Tellier said.
Tellier said students should know their status, especially if they are sexually active. She said she and many employees of Fan Free Clinic strive to get students into the process of testing when they are young and hope it is a habit they continue.
“For a lot of folks it’s that first test, the anxiety and the fear of the unknown and not knowing what to expect,” Tellier said. “They come (to clinics) and they realize there are people who care about them.”
Tellier said in addition to the free HIV testing, Fan Free Clinic provides an opportunity for students to ask questions about the testing process.
“We give them some tools so that they can protect themselves,” Tellier said.
Fan Free Clinic employee and VCU alumna Callie Furlong said she encourages students to speak up when they hear incorrect information about testing and discourage stereotypical thinking when it comes to getting routine tests.
“It’s important for students to encourage each other,” Furlong said.
Upcoming free oral HIV testing dates are Wednesday, March 10 and Tuesday, April 6 at The Wellness Resource Center at 815 S. Cathedral Place. Visit www.thewell.vcu.edu for more information.