SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Washington, D.C. has the highest rate of HIV infection in the nation - almost 3 percent. It's considered an epidemic. Health officials believe one way to halt the spread of the disease is to encourage people to get tested and know their status. As Kavitha Cardoza reports, they hope this will encourage residents to seek treatment and reduce the chances of them passing on the virus.
KAVITHA CARDOZA, BYLINE: Juan Carlos Loubriel and Amie Krautwurst are setting up a table outside their large HIV testing van.
JUAN CARLOS LOUBRIEL: We have some condoms, lubricant.
AMIE KRAUTWURST: And also the flavors to keep it fun.
CARDOZA: They work for Whitman Walker Health, a community health center in D.C. Using their van, they do approximately 2,000 HIV tests a year outside nightclubs, homeless shelters and today, in front of a grocery store.
KRAUTWURST: Approximately one in 20 people in Washington, D.C. is living with HIV, and within that percentage about 20 to 40 percent don't know that they are HIV-positive.
CARDOZA: Loubriel says the test is convenient.
LOUBRIEL: Let me do it before I go to the grocery store. I pick up my grocery and I finish and I get my results.
CARDOZA: It's part of an effort to de-stigmatize HIV testing. Millard Moore and his fiancee Myrna Treminio were on their way to the grocery store when they decided to stop by the van and get tested. Now, they're waiting for the results Are you nervous about the results?
MILLARD MOORE: Yes, very. I always get nervous when I take tests. It can be a school test, I'm nervous, you know.
CARDOZA: But 20 minutes later...
MYRNA TREMINIO: Mine says negative.
CARDOZA: How do you feel?
TREMINIO: Good about myself.
MOORE: Negative. Excited, like I want to dance.
CARDOZA: They leave holding hands. Walter Smith heads D.C. Appleseed, an advocacy organization. He says things are much better coordinated than they were just a few years ago.
WALTER SMITH: There was almost no education in the schools, very little in the way of promoting testing, nothing like the condom distribution program that we have today. All of those things are basic pieces.
CARDOZA: Now, D.C. pays for more than 120,000 HIV tests a year. There have been no babies born with HIV in the city since 2009, in part because of increased testing. Some high schools offer HIV tests, and residents can get free tests done at more than 20 locations, including at the Department of Motor Vehicles. But Michael Kharfen with the D.C. Department of Health wants to do more. He says more than 70 percent of residents diagnosed with HIV saw a doctor in the previous year but weren't tested for the disease. Every doctor in the city has received a letter urging them to include an HIV test in their patients' annual checkup
MICHAEL KHARFEN: Basically, from 13 on, that every year you get an HIV test as part of your other tests of your health - blood pressure, your body index, your cholesterol. HIV should be part of it because it's a common disease in the District of Columbia.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
CARDOZA: Tonight, the HIV mobile van is outside Town, a D.C. gay nightclub. And Juan Carlos Loubriel and Amie Krautwurst wait to do HIV tests. They wait, and wait. No one shows up. Rich McPherson and R.J. Fletcher say it's embarrassing.
RICH MCPHERSON: Who wants to get a scare in the middle of the street outside of the club?
R.J. FLETCHER: Exactly. Who really wants to walk out of a van that's parked on the street saying Get HIV Tested?
CARDOZA: But as Loubriel and Krautwurst pack up to leave, they insist it's not a waste of time.
KRAUTWURST: We never think that it's pointless because bringing the van, it just gets the conversation started. Oh, well, I haven't gotten a test in a long time. Maybe I should go and get one, or talking with their friends and saying, well, have you gotten a test? Have you gotten a test?
CARDOZA: And talking, they say, is the first step to getting tested. For NPR News, I'm Kavitha Cardoza in Washington, D.C.