Student Health Services charges too much for HIV testing, group says

Some students have expressed concern over the availability and cost of testing for sexually transmitted diseases at Student Health Services.

GW’s chapter of the Student Global AIDS Campaign is investigating the fees charged at SHS for sexually transmitted disease and HIV testing. GW charges students $42 for an HIV test and $60 for a combined gonorrhea and Chlamydia test.

“It is the University’s obligation and responsibility to offer (testing) services in the same way they must offer counseling services and food options,” said junior Megan Tackney, who heads a SGAC committee conducting the investigation. About 75 percent of STDs occur in people ages 15 to 24.

Senior Monika Bandyopadhyay, SGAC chapter leader, said her group began an investigation when some of its members went to SHS to receive STD tests and were given “poor health services.”

An HIV test costs $30 at American University and $10 at the University of Maryland. Howard University offers free HIV testing to students on Tuesdays and all other STD testing is free when students make an appointment. Georgetown University charges students $80 plus a $20 lab fee for an HIV test.

Tackney said SGAC “understands (testing) will probably not be free, but we would like to see a lower cost.” She said some options include allowing each student one free test per semester or to designate one week for free testing. GW already provides free HIV testing on Dec. 1, which is National Aids Day.

SHS officials declined to reveal the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases on campus but said they actively engage in safe sex education. Officials told The Hatchet in 2002 that the number of STDs reported yearly was in the single digits, down significantly from the 1980s. The National Planned Parenthood Association rated D.C. the metropolitan area with the fifth highest rate of AIDS. The nation’s capital is also rated in the top 25 cities for syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia.

Susan Haney, clinical program coordinator at SHS, said she considers the testing costs “fairly reasonable.” She said some schools are able to provide testing at little or no cost because they have grant money, more money in their budget or a student health fee to help pay for the services.

She added that most visits to SHS concern students “feeling ill” and that officials have to prioritize their services.

“It’s not that we would not like to provide these services for free, but you have to look at the big picture,” Haney said.

Sophomore Katie Hendricks, an SGAC member working with the committee, said her organization’s goal is “to have more affordable HIV testing on campus on a regular basis. A lot of students are deterred away from campus (for testing).”

Hendricks said the more difficult and expensive it is for students to get tested, the more likely they are to put it off.

-Caitlin Carroll contributed to this report.

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