University may cut down free HIV testing program

by Adam Silverman and Chloe Sorvino

Student Health Service may scale back its free HIV testing clinics next year if it doesn’t see an increase in visitors, Student Association president Ashwin Narla said.

The free weekly clinic opened in November, after SA leaders lobbied to nix a $25 appointment fee they said deterred students from getting tested. About 120 students took the free tests in November and December – just 17 more than the same time last year when the fee was in place.

To draw more students, SHS is tapping student organizations like Allied in Pride and the GW Student Global AIDS Campaign to help with a marketing push. But if it fails, Narla said the clinics could be scaled down to two or three times per semester.

Chapter Leader for the GW Student Global AIDS Campaign Katherine Wynne said that the organization is “going to fight like heck” to preserve the free HIV clinics. “Other campuses have free testing. GW should not be an exception,” Wynne said.

SHS provided 528 HIV tests last year, a 200-test drop from the year before.

Narla said he was hopeful for the clinics’ success after more than 30 students came to the first session. But he said participation waned after midterms.

“Hopefully we can raise the numbers up a little bit, but if they continue to decline, I’ll be the first person to say we tried this program. But we didn’t see as much involvement as we would like, so we’ll take the next step forward and see what we can do differently,” Narla said.

Associate Director of Student Health Service Susan Haney said some students have found other avenues to get tested, such as routine office visits and through agencies like the D.C. Department of Health. The GW Hospital has also offered free walk-in testing since 2006. CVS also sells over-the-counter tests.

Haney added that the SHS did not have “any expectation of the numbers we would serve” and that she was pleased students were coming in.

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