The AIDS crisis is not over: free on campus HIV testing is crucial

I’ve never really considered the possibility that I could get HIV/AIDs. I suppose most people don’t, until they have to. Of course, I’ve always known HIV/AIDs was serious, but it seems like a disease that happens to other people, never to me or anyone I know. Only people who are far-off and remote from my existence were in danger.I know there are a lot of people out there like me. People who read about HIV in the newspaper, recognize it as a serious social issue, but deep down can’t imagine it affecting them.

We’re all wrong of course. We live, we go to college and we have sex in North Carolina, which in 2004 was identified by health workers as the site of the first ever HIV outbreak among college students.

According to Triad Health Center, 41 percent of new HIV cases in the United States are in the twelve states that constitute the American South. 45 percent of the total AIDs cases in the United States are also in the South, with African-Americans disproportionately affected.

Young people (those of us under twenty-five) are especially at risk – because we have more sex, or because we are dumber about it, I don’t know. Scarier still, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that a quarter of the those living with the virus (in the U.S.) don’t even know they have it.

Luckily, we go to a school that takes this issue seriously. On Nov. 7, free HIV testing was offered in Founders by CAAP (the Community AIDs Awareness Project) and the Triad Health Project in the basement offices of Project Community.

The health workers from Triad informed me that there hasn’t been any controversy in bringing free HIV testing to Guilford campus, and that our community has been very receptive, which hardly needed to be said judging from the line of patiently waiting students snaking through Project Community and into the hallway (76 students were eventually tested).

Free HIV testing is extremely important, especially when potentially 25 percent of those infected don’t know about it. Students should take advantage of it and that line should have been twice as long.

But there is a test that is faster and more efficient then the standard blood test, and which neither Triad Health or Guilford offers it (for free anyway). These new PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are currently offered in many major urban areas as a part of rapid testing strategy. According to the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, the tests have been spectacularly successful. In New York City 96.5 percent of clients choose rapid testing over conventional testing with a corresponding increase in the annual number of tests by 36.9 percent.

I grew up in Mt. Rainier, a little town that sits right on the border of Washington D.C. – which has the highest rate of new AIDs cases in the country (one in 20 D.C. residents have the virus). In a citywide campaign last year, officials advocated the PCR tests, administered using oral swabs rather then needles. The results were ready in 20 minutes, instead of three weeks.

The trouble with PCR tests is that they are expensive, and no one involved in this process has pots of money lying around. But these tests could be worth it, considering their increased efficiency, speed, and client preference, which would significantly increase the rate of HIV detection

If PCR tests are unavailable, the standard tests are still worth the wait. HIV is very real, no matter how much we may think it can’t effect us. The health office will test you for a price or you can call the Triad Health Center – 336.275.1654. They administer free HIV (and syphilis) testing every Monday from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m.