Participation in HIV testing declines, forcing monthly clinic

Student Health Service will hold fewer HIV testing clinics this fall after participation plummeted 80 percent compared to the previous year, when tests cost $25.

The free clinics – a top priority of last year’s Student Association – will be held monthly, rather than weekly, after another year of declining interest.

Participation in the program peaked in 2011, when 711 students got tested. Last year, 95 students took the free tests – which is 433 fewer students from last year.

University health officials have said waning interest could be due to the availability of home testing kits or tests more regularly being conducted during students’ regular physicals.

Philip Horowitz, president of the Student Global AIDS Campaign and also a leader of Allied in Pride, said the most common deterrent for students is the fear of having their blood drawn, because few know that the test is a cheek swab.

Of the more than 1.1 million people living in the U.S. with HIV, 18 percent of them do not know they are infected with the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The D.C. Department of Health showed the area surrounding Foggy Bottom has the third-lowest proportion of people living with HIV out of D.C.’s eight wards. About 2.1 percent of Ward 2’s population is afflicted with the disease, according to its most recent annual report.

GW receives HIV testing kits for free by the D.C. Department of Health, but in the past has charged to cover the cost of staffing.

Susan Haney, associate director of Student Health Service, said access to free testing removes “one significant barrier” to learning an individual’s status.

“Although it is very rare to have a positive test result during this type of clinic, it raises the awareness of HIV and hopefully provides an opportunity for students to look at their behavior, assess their risk and make changes if needed,” Haney said.

The monthly clinics will be held on the first Wednesday of every month from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Student Association president Julia Susuni, who stressed health issues in her platform, praised GW for offering the free service. She called it a success of the SA’s task force on student health, which will focus on GW health care policies all year.

She added that she hopes to push back the clinic by 30 minutes in the evening to give more opportunity for students to get tested after classes or work.

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