Student Health Service sees drop in number of administered HIV tests

by Silverio Ramirez

The University’s health office administered 26 percent fewer HIV tests this year, leveling off last year’s unusual increase in tests.

Student Health Service administered 528 HIV tests in the past 12 months, down from the 711 tests last academic year. But the office’s leaders said they were unconcerned about the dropoff, as students could be getting tested off campus as part of their routine physicals.

Isabel Goldenberg, University physician and medical director of Student Health Service, and Susan Haney, outreach coordinator for SHS, said in a joint statement that they could not fully explain this year’s decline or the yearly fluctuation.

Goldenberg and Haney said another factor could be that students are self-assessing their level of risk and concluding they do not need routine screenings.

“Students may be more aware of the recommendations and their risk, and not feel the need of having repeated testing,” Goldenberg and Haney said.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 prohibits health care providers from disclosing the number of positive test results.

Goldenberg and Haney said possible factors in the declining numbers include decreasing student involvement in Student Health Service programming. Attendance at free testing events in the Marvin Center or in the Student Health Service building has been declining since they began a few years ago, according to the pair's joint statement. The free tests distributed at campus events hosted by SHS are factored into the total number of tests given out.

Twenty-eight percent of college students nationwide reported being tested for HIV, according to the American College Health Association’s Spring 2011 report.

Student Health Services offers HIV tests free of charge, but students still must pay a $25 office visit fee.

The office fee associated with HIV testing has entered the campus conversation this spring as a result of student advocates like Samuel Garrett, chapter leader of the GW Student Global AIDS Campaign.

While many students are aware of reproductive health resources, such as on-campus testing and treatment, Garrett said some students are still put off by the fee.

“It is unacceptable that students at GW have to choose between a meal and their health, especially when the D.C. government is already paying for the test,” he said.

D.C.’s HIV/AIDS Administration offers free HIV testing at 19 testing sites citywide.

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