Nation's Capital Urges Wider Testing for HIV Washington, D.C., launches a campaign to urge every resident of the District between ages 14 and 84 to get tested for HIV. The city plans to distribute rapid HIV tests for free to emergency rooms, physicians' offices, community health programs, and more.
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Nation's Capital Urges Wider Testing for HIV

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Nation's Capital Urges Wider Testing for HIV

Nation's Capital Urges Wider Testing for HIV

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Washington D.C. officials are hoping to make good on a promise made on this program back in February. I had spoken with Dr. Marsha Martin, head of D.C.'s HIV/AIDS Administration, about the city's alarming rate of HIV infection.

Dr. MARSHA MARTIN (HIV/AIDS Administration): We are also looking to have all the residents of the District of Columbia tested for HIV.

NORRIS: Every single one?

Dr. MARTIN: Everybody, know their status. If we have 1 in 20 living with HIV, that means it could be any of us.

NORRIS: What's the likelihood that that's going to happen within the next five years?

Dr. MARTIN: Oh, no question, it's going to happen.

NORRIS: Tomorrow, it is happening. D.C. is launching that effort. It's one of the most ambitious citywide campaigns yet. And if you're between the ages of 14 and 84 and live in Washington, D.C., no matter your race, class, or sexual orientation, the city wants you to get tested for HIV. It's a rapid test. It takes only 20 minutes to get a preliminary result.

Dr. Marsha Martin came by our studio again to tell us more about the campaign. So glad you're here.

Dr. MARTIN: I'm happy to be here. Good afternoon.

NORRIS: Now, I understand that this is sort of a two-track effort. On one hand, you want people to go and get tested, whether or not they are planning to visit the doctor. On the other hand, you want physicians to make this sort of a routine part of a doctor's examine, much like testing for cholesterol or a blood pressure test. Is that correct?

Dr. MARTIN: Exactly. That's correct. Our goal is to routinize HIV screening and the Center for Disease Control this year has rolled out a series of guidelines and are recommending that HIV screening become routine in all medical settings. And we're going to build on that and then expand to make sure that our community clinics, as well as our public health settings, like the STD clinics, the jails, the TB clinics, our detoxes - we want to combine both the public and private and the medical settings and the community settings.

NORRIS: Many people are concerned about anonymous testing, though. And if you're tested in a doctor's office, might that stoke their fears? If you test positive in a doctor's office, does the doctor then have to report that back to the health department or to the government?

Dr. MARTIN: That's correct. All positive tests are reported to the health department, but it never goes outside the health department. But it is important to note that we will still provide anonymous testing. So, that there will still be sites in the District of Columbia that you can go in and you can give your name as John Doe and you can get tested and you can walk out and that will be fine.

NORRIS: I want to ask you about this campaign. When you say everyone, you really do mean everyone. That includes senior citizens. That includes kids who are sexually active.

Dr. MARTIN: Exactly.

NORRIS: Now, are they going to have to get parental consent?

Dr. MARTIN: Well, no. They can walk into any testing site in the District of Columbia that offers free confidential anonymous testing. And we are asking people from the ages of 14 to 84 to walk into those doors. And if they're going to the doctor's, ask for it from the doctor.

NORRIS: I heard you say 14 to 84. So, you're encouraging people to get tested into their 80s. That's two decades past the CDC guidelines. How do you plan to encourage that group, the senior citizens, to get the test?

Dr. MARTIN: Well, we've actually already reached out through our faith-based organizations, as well as some of our organizations that work with retirees and we've encouraged them to participate in this as well.

NORRIS: I want to hear that conversation.

Dr. MARTIN: Well, the conversations are - a lot of them had told us, why are you stopping at 64? You know, we're alive, we're involved, we're in relationships. And so, you've got to include us in all the messages. And so we are.

NORRIS: Now, some people, including advocates who actually applaud this effort, say the testing is fine, but it doesn't make much sense if you don't also have more money to help the people who might test positive.

Dr. MARTIN: Well, I'm very pleased that the District of Columbia right now has a series of health initiatives that we'll be able to provide care and treatment services to any person who tests positive. We'll be able to get them into counseling, get them into healthcare and provide the treatment and the drugs that are necessary to help keep them healthy.

NORRIS: And what about the testing itself, where's the funding for that coming from?

Dr. MARTIN: The funding for the testing is from the Center for Disease Control, as well as our local appropriated dollars. And so indeed, we are buying 80,000 tests and we are distributing those tests to our medical networks and our community networks. And the city is, combined with federal dollars, paying for those tests outright.

NORRIS: Eighty thousand tests, that's not exactly one for every resident. What happens when you run out?

Dr. MARTIN: That's just the beginning. We're going to roll out the campaign with these 80,000 and we're just going to move and move and move and the number of tests we need we're going to be able to purchase them.

NORRIS: Is there a model? Anyone else doing this? Anyone close to doing this?

Dr. MARTIN: No one else is doing it. No one else is close to doing it. We're going to lead the way. We're the nation's capitol and we should be leading the way in HIV, as well as leading the way in how we can care for our own citizens.

NORRIS: So, not just leading the way in terms of HIV and AIDS statistics.

Dr. MARTIN: That's right. We're going to lead the way in the solution.

NORRIS: Marsha Martin, thanks for coming in.

Dr. MARTIN: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: Marsha Martin is head of Washington D.C.'s Administration for HIV Policy and Programs. She was speaking to us about the city's new campaign, Come Together D.C., Get Screened for HIV. That's a program that encourages universal testing for HIV.

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