Student Health Service will begin offering free weekly clinics for HIV testing later this month.
The two-hour clinics, which will be held every Wednesday, will save students the highly criticized $25 fee, which campus leaders say deters students from getting tested.
SA President Ashwin Narla and Executive Vice President Abby Bergren began lobbying for the fee’s removal this year, but the University said free weekly clinics would make it easier for staff to handle the expected influx of appointments.
“It’s a move in the right direction. it brings a lot of awareness to the issue,” Narla said, “The hope would be that there are more students who get tested.”
SHS administered 528 HIV tests last year, about 200 fewer tests than the year before. Narla and Bergren said the drop in numbers showed that costs were a barrier to students.
Medical Director for SHS Isabel Goldenberg said the clinics would be an expansion of the SHS free testing events held twice yearly around campus, which drew about 40 students from around Foggy Bottom last year. She said the tests would be held at the center to ensure confidentiality for students getting tested.
“We have done similar clinics throughout the year, at SHS as well as other locations around campus. The idea would be to do them more regularly than in the past,” Goldenberg said.
Eight schools that GW considers its peers, including New York, Boston and Emory universities, already provide free HIV testing through their student health offices. Six including Northwestern and Georgetown universities charge fees ranging from $15 to $80 for their HIV testing.
Narla said he and Bergren will now work on raising awareness about the new option and also publicize GW Hospital’s free HIV tests. Walk-in testing has been free at the hospital since 2006, but the SA leaders say few students know about the option.
Samuel Garrett, co-chapter leader and policy director of the Student Global AIDS Campaign, has lobbied to remove the HIV test fee for two years. He worked with the SA to increase free HIV testing options on campus.
He said the best option is keeping the format of appointments to get tests, rather than the clinics, but added that he said he is happy the University is willing to “expand access to free testing on campus” through events or clinics.
“For too long, expensive appointment fees, along with a perceived lack of risk and the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS, has served as a barrier to students who want to get tested,” Garrett said.
This article was updated Oct. 11, 2012 to reflect the following:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Samuel Garrett is the vice president of Student Global AIDS Campaign due to misinformation on the online directory for student organizations. He is in fact the co-chapter leader and policy director. We regret this error.
This article appeared in the October 11, 2012 issue of the Hatchet.