Augusta residents young and old decided to do their part toward helping end AIDS by getting tested Thursday for the potentially fatal disease.
For National HIV Testing Day, Georgia Regents University’s Ryan White Program unveiled its new mobile clinic at the Peach Orchard Road Walgreens, welcoming dozens of young adults and senior citizens to receive free confidential exams, care referrals and counseling on sexually transmitted disease prevention.
The van – outfitted with air-conditioned office space – was expected to triple last year’s turnout at the program’s annual HIV testing drive.
The unit carried 150 tests Thursday. In 2012, when the event was held in the Peach Orchard Walgreens, about 50 people were tested, said David Thompson, GRU’s community outreach specialist.
“We have come a long way,” said Thompson, remembering when the drive began 12 years ago as a booth at Lake Olmstead Park. “We can treat HIV now, but the key is identification. Statistics show that people who are diagnosed with HIV early – and get into and stay in treatment – can live as long as people without the virus.”
Thompson said the mobile unit was introduced last week and paid for by savings through the Ryan White Program, which provides outpatient services such as substance abuse evaluations, oral health care and HIV counseling, testing and referrals.
Walgreens and the Salvation Army Kroc Center offered free body mass index and blood pressure exams; Bruster;s provided free ice cream, hot dogs and soda; and the Aiken Center, United Way and St. Stephen’s Ministry were on hand to help raise awareness.
President Obama supported those across the country who promoted HIV Testing Day, saying rapid testing, which can produce results in one to 20 minutes, is changing the way America diagnoses AIDS.
In April, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended everyone between 15 and 65 get screened for HIV as part of their routine health care. That means, under the Affordable Care Act, new health care plans must cover HIV testing without any additional out-of-pocket costs.
While those tested wished to keep their identities private, some said they found comfort in Obama’s words and cited health care changes as motivating them to get examined.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, and nearly 1 in 5 of them do not know they are infected.
“That’s the most life-threatening part about HIV – not knowing,” said Christina Barbin, the manager of the Peach Orchard Walgreens, which has been named a center of excellence for HIV patients because of the quality of its medications, counseling and co-pay assistance.
Barbin said the GRU team will be at the Wrightsboro Road Walgreens from 2:30 to 5 p.m. Saturday.