Benjamin Krimmel: A wake-up call for students on HIV testing

It’s midterm season, but GW students are not even showing up to take the right test.

HIV testing was down a whopping 80 percent last year. Only 95 students were tested – 433 fewer than the year before, according to data from Student Health Service. This is especially alarming because the drop occurred at the same time that SHS began offering free testing on a weekly basis.

Now, the Student Association is moving forward with a plan this week to coax students to take better care of their health by bringing SHS closer to campus.

There are plenty of hurdles for this move – namely, high costs and little campus space. But before we can even talk about the big move, students have to take it on themselves to wake up to the realities, especially about HIV.

The responsibility to pursue positive health practices and demonstrate interest for this free program falls on students – not on administrators or even student leaders.

This may be seen as another issue that “doesn’t happen on campus” or “doesn’t involve me,” but the importance of getting tested to know whether you are healthy outweighs in importance all other tests you’ll take this year.

Fifty thousand Americans are infected by HIV each year, and one quarter of infections are in people between the ages of 13 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And even more frightening is the fact that 60 percent of all youths infected with HIV don’t know they are infected.

Among Ward 2 residents, which includes Foggy Bottom, 2.1 percent of the population lives with HIV/AIDS, according to data from the CDC.

And HIV tests are nothing to be afraid of.

Here’s what you should know: SHS uses an oral swab HIV test. It’s painless in comparison to a blood test. But it’s also 99.9 percent effective, said Philip Horowitz, president of GW’s Student Global AIDS Campaign. The results are available in 20 minutes.

But as a result of low participation, the free HIV testing will only be offered once a month. And that’s a huge shame for our student body.

On an elite campus like ours, it’s unfortunate that students don’t have a better awareness of what services GW offers to prevent the spread of the disease.

To help fill part of the gap in testing, Student Global AIDS Campaign, a group that focuses on the on-campus aspects of HIV as well as participates in global campaigns, will aim to hold two on-campus testing days each semester.

But in the meantime, students need to fight their fears and get more aggressive about promoting positive health not only for themselves, but also for our community.

“People who are having sex should be responsible enough to know what they should be doing to keep themselves healthy, which includes buying condoms and getting testing for HIV,” Horowitz told me.

And he’s right. If you aren’t mature enough for HIV testing, you probably aren’t mature enough for sex.

The columnist is a senior majoring in international affairs.

This post was updated on Oct. 11, 2013 to reflect the following correction:
Due to an editing error, The Hatchet incorrectly identified the Student Global AIDS Campaign as the Student Global AIDS Awareness Campaign.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.