STD Quarterly-Take control during National HIV Testing Day

Take a look at your calendar. There is still time to plan for National HIV Testing Day, scheduled for June 27. The campaign for 2000 focuses on targeted outreach to the African-American and Latino communities; adolescents; young gay, bisexual, and transgendered men; and women of childbearing age, according to the Washington, DC-based National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA).

NAPWA, along with several national partners, coordinates National HIV Testing Day, working with state and local organizations to develop events in their communities. The annual event's message, "Take the Test, Take Control," reinforces NAPWA's belief that participation in HIV antibody counseling and testing is a critical step in the decision to take responsibility for personal health.

The campaign was developed in 1995 to respond to the growing number of HIV infections among specific populations and the widespread ambivalence among many Americans about the value of knowing their HIV serostatus.

Testing has increased during campaign timeframes, from 1995 through 1998, with 1999 data still being evaluated, says Anthony Farmer, MBA, NAPWA's deputy executive director for operations and finance. The organization just completed a two-day National HIV Testing Advocacy Network conference in San Francisco, where participants shared successes from the 1999 campaign and planned for the upcoming event.

Two new items launched at the meeting include social marketing programs calling for NAPWA to collaborate with community-based organizations in developing campaigns targeting a specific population. By assisting with the planning, implementation, and evaluation, the campaigns can be developed as model programs for others to use in the future, says Farmer.

"The other thing we are launching is the National HIV Testing Advocacy Network," he says. "We are still in the planning stages with it, but with the campaign as a foundation, we want to formulate a network across the country to have a collective voice to stress the importance of HIV testing and knowing your serostatus and taking control of your health life."

Numbers up during week

The County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services' Office of AIDS Programs and Policy worked with its community-based organizations to reach a broad range of populations, particularly in African-American and Hispanic communities, including sexually active women, adolescents and young adults, and young gay, bisexual, and transgendered men. The multilevel campaign highlighted testing and counseling events held the week leading up to June 27, says Sophia Rumanes, MPH, program manager.

During the event week, 2,043 people were tested, compared with the average 1,387 weekly figure for 1999, says Rumanes. A total of 34 people tested positive during the week, compared with the average weekly figure of 24, she notes. Organizers also tracked the number of calls placed from Los Angeles County to the statewide AIDS hotline. "On an average week, it is estimated that LA County contributes to 36% of all the calls to the hotline, and during HIV Testing Days, 62% of all the calls to the hotline originated in LA County. The majority of the calls from LA County discussed testing issues."

Some 70 events were held during the week, with the county's community-based organizations heavily involved in the effort, says Rumanes. Public relations and advertising efforts included local print and radio ads, billboards, bus bench placards, brochures, outreach cards, pamphlets, and fliers. Interviews with print, radio, and television stations also were coordinated through a press conference.

Community-based organizations also networked with businesses and other groups to obtain promotional items and incentives to encourage people to return to sites for their test results. Movie passes, compact discs, hygiene kits, food coupons, and restaurant certificates proved to be popular items, she notes.

To get your facility involved in National HIV Testing Day, consider joining in with other organizations in offering a health fair, suggests Farmers. Some people may not come specifically for HIV testing, but they'll participate if it's offered along with other kinds of tests. Neighborhood festivals also are a good site, he notes.

Companies such as Bristol-Myers Squibb Immunology in New York City and Epitope in Beaverton, OR, which have served as national sponsors, can provide assistance on the local level, Farmer says. Contact your sales representative if your facility plans to participate in the event, he says. A wealth of information developed during the 1999 campaign also is available on the Internet. (See resource box, below. Also see patient handout, Women and HIV/AIDS, printed in English and Spanish, inserted in this issue.)

If your facility will serve as a testing site during the event, plan to offer extended hours so people can take advantage of testing outside normal work hours, NAPWA suggests. Also, consider having volunteers to serve as testing buddies to answer questions about the counseling and testing process or to provide individual support during the waiting period for results. This is a very popular service for testing programs serving youth, NAPWA notes.

Tony Farmer, National Association of People with AIDS, 1413 K St. N.W., Seventh Floor, Washington, DC 20005. Telephone: (202) 898-0414, ext. 147. Fax: (202) 898-0435. E-mail: tfarmer@napwa.org. Web: www.napwa.org.

• Information from the 1999 campaign is available on the Web: www.hivtest.org.