Free HIV tests can save lives

Cheyenne Fitch

Staff Writer

The spread of HIV has long plagued America. The deadly disease attacks the immune system and eventually causes AIDS. Students can be sure that they will not fall victim by being tested for free on campus.

Whitney M. Young, Jr. Health Services partners with Hudson Valley’s Student Health Services twice a month to provide free and rapid HIV testing for students at no cost. However, a recent poll conducted at Hudson Valley revealed that out of 100 students, only 43 were aware of this routine service and only 3 of 100 actually utilized it.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an astounding 60 percent of young adults (ages 13-24) living with the virus are unaware that they carry it. Young adults make up 26 percent of all new HIV infections.

Sean P. Ball, an occupational specialist working for Whitney Young, is an advocate for public health. He and others hope to tackle the rampant spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases in the Capital Region and, more specifically, urban areas.

“At some point of their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 African-American men will be diagnosed with HIV. So if you have a group of 16 men, one of them is going to test positive for HIV.,” said Ball.

This is why Whitney Young provides HIV testing to students on campus as a normal, routine practice. “It’s been a good partnership between the Health Services and Whitney Young to be able to provide this service to HVCC students…Claudine [Potvin-]Giordano is really great,” said Ball. Potvin-Giordano is Hudson Valley’s health service coordinator.

The reasons vary as to why Hudson Valley students show resistance to on-campus testing. Out of the 100 surveyed, 15 percent would rather go or already go elsewhere for testing, 5 percent were uncertain and hesitant, while others had concerns of privacy, time and accuracy.

“It’s not something that people willingly announce. It’s always discreet,” said English major Hayes Fields.

Even the fear of needles menaced one student. However, in the majority of cases, the reason was the same: students were simply unaware of the screening.

Despite the many concerns students have on campus, Ball and Potvin-Giordano make HIV testings as user-friendly and private as possible.

“If students don’t want to get tested on campus, Whitney Young will meet them wherever. In fact, we don’t even share any information with the college, so it’s total discretion,” said Ball.

Moreover, the testing process is not as daunting as most students perceive, and everyone is met confidentially on a one-to-one basis. According to Potvin-Giordano, Ball and his partner T. Guaye are nonjudgmental, funny, and more open than most when it comes to discussing personal matters with students.

It is a common misconception among students that blood must be drawn. Instead, a swab is swiped through the mouth and is placed in a liquid solution for 15 minutes. “It’s painless, it’s quick, and it takes less than 5 seconds,” said Ball.

“The swab actually collects blood cells within saliva. So we are actually testing blood,” said Ball.

During the wait, students fill out necessary paperwork and are given a risk assessment. After receiving the results, Guaye introduces students to general sex education and equips them with knowledge about safer sex practices.

Ball uses a couple of quotes to ease students’ anxiety of getting tested: “HIV is 100 percent preventable but also 100 percent treatable,” and, “If positive, the sooner you are tested, the sooner you can get treatment and live a long and healthy life.”

On Dec. 5, Whitney Young will be at the Student Health Services to provide HIV testing for World Aids Day (Dec. 1). Students who participate will be rewarded with two movie tickets.

 

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