DPH Makes Testing Accessible in Georgia for National HIV Testing Day

June 23, 2015

National HIV Testing Day (NHTD) is always observed on June 27. The annual theme remains the same for an important public health message: Take the Test. Take Control.

Getting an HIV test is the only way to know if you have HIV and is a critical part of stopping the spread of the virus.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18 health districts, community based organizations (CBOs) and others are joining forces on NHTD to encourage Georgians to get tested and know their health status to stop the spread of HIV.

Increased HIV testing is one of the key action steps in winning the battle against HIV. Routine and targeted testing can lead to more people who know their HIV status and are equipped to manage it properly, as well as assist in decreasing the percentage of late testers.

Comprehensive AIDS Resource Encounter (CARE), Inc. in Jesup, Georgia is answering the call-to-action for increased HIV testing in South Georgia.

CARE is one of the CBOs funded by DPH’s HIV Prevention Program and its health educator, Iman Johnson, will be providing local citizens free access to OraQuick kits, a private HIV testing kit that provides results in about 20 minutes. CARE will conduct HIV testing for residents at the Alma Housing Authority Community Center in Bacon County on Thursday, June 25 from 10 a.m.– 6 p.m.

CARE’s health educators are ready to talk with resident about HIV prevention and how to reduce the risk of exposure to all sexually transmitted infections as well as other health screenings.

“When it comes to HIV, it’s important to know your status, feel confident about the test and understand the results,” said Johnson. “We will offer Wal-Mart gift card incentives to those persons who get an HIV test and complete the post-test counseling on the same day.”

CDC recommends that health care providers test everyone for HIV between the ages of 13 and 64 at least once as part of routine health care. Care, Inc. is working to uphold these recommendations by eliminating common barriers many patients face when seeking health care services.

“Lots of our local citizens don’t have transportation to get to their medical appointments,” said Johnson. “If we go to the Alma Housing Authority, we are meeting them where they live.”

Because HIV is a disease which knows no boundaries, testing in remote areas of the state is critical to personal and public health according to the Executive Director at Alma Housing Authority, Randy Welty.

“Rural communities, particularly those remote from large population centers, are generally underserved in all social services,” said Welty. “Our partnership with Care, Inc. is our first opportunity to bring this vital health service directly to our residents and the local population.”

Gregory S. Felzien, M.D., AAHIVS, medical advisor to the Division of Health Protection IDI-HIV unit at DPH, agrees that HIV testing in rural communities is paramount in winning the battle against HIV. Dr. Felzien has devoted his life and career to HIV care, with more than 20 years of experience. He has been caring for HIV patients in rural Georgia since 2008, particularly in Bulloch and Coffee counties in the Southeast Health District.

“If we specifically look at an area such as Waycross, there are 1,120 individuals living with HIV, with 581 living with stage 3 AIDS,” said Dr. Felzien. “It’s critical to educate individuals in rural and urban Georgia about HIV prevention and the importance of testing and early entry into care and treatment.”

In Georgia, public health leaders are taking another step to help protect citizens and stop the spread of HIV with the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP in short. PrEP is a pill HIV-negative individuals take before coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of becoming infected. The medications work to prevent HIV from establishing infection inside the body.

DPH has recently designed a new toolkit about PrEP that assists public health and health care professional in understanding the use of this medication. In honor of the PrEP toolkit rollout and NHTD, DPH is hosting a Twitter chat via its official handle, @gaDPH, on June 26 from 2 – 3 p.m. Those interested in joining the chat can tune into this engaging online conversation by following #DPHchat.  

To learn more about HIV testing at the Alma Housing Authority Community Center, call CARE at 912-530-8078 or the Alma Housing Authority at 912-632-4298.

Call your local health department for times and locations for free HIV testing in clinics. CDC also offers a year-round HIV testing locator at National HIV and STD Testing Resources. You can also ask your doctor for a test, call 1-800-CDC-INFO or text your ZIP code to "KNOW IT" (566948).

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