A new HIV testing campaign has been rolled out in Southwest Philadelphia.
“Do One Thing, Change Everything” is a neighborhood based HIV and hepatitis C (HCV) campaign launched in the neighborhood of zip code 19143, where 89 percent of HIV cases are among African Americans.
Led by Amy Nunn, a faculty member at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, the campaign is a comprehensive approach to combating HIV and hepatitis C in underserved communities.
“What’s different about this program is that it’s focused on the neighborhood as a unit of intervention. Instead of focusing on individual risk behaviors we’re trying encourage the entire community to get tested,” says Nunn.
The campaign includes a large-scale social marketing and media promotion plan developed with Uniworld Group and Clear Channel, and massive mobilization of community leaders, clergy, businesses, block captains and local institutions to promote and de-stigmatize testing.
Under the initiative, a team of outreach workers is going throughout the community and encouraging residents to get tested via its mobile testing unit or clinic partner, the Health Annex, at 61st and Woodland Avenue.
As a part of the campaign, the Health Annex started offering routine HIV testing in March to all patients 13 and older.
“There’s definitely still some work to do about getting people to a place where they feel comfortable consenting to the test and understanding why it’s so important to know your results,” says Health Annex Director Emily Nichols.
Since the Health Annex started offering routine HIV testing, Nichols says about 500 patients a month were offered the opportunity to be tested, however approximately half declined.
The federally qualified health center features an HIV primary care program where people can receive comprehensive treatment.
The primary goal of “Do One Thing” is to diagnose and link as many individuals as possible to care services to reduce racial disparities in HIV and HCV infection. The secondary goal is to create a HIV and HCV prevention model that can be replicated in other urban settings, with a focus on federally qualified health centers.
“We’re trying to stimulate the demand for testing and provide it and I think that this will become increasingly more important as more people get their care in federally qualified health centers and we fill that gap of treating people who are uninsured,” says Nunn.
“We want to scale up clinical testing and non-clinical testing because we recognize that not everyone is going to go in and tested at the doctor’s (office) — particularly men. Women are easier to catch. It’s much more difficult to reach men.”
Nunn and her partners plan to test 3,000 people during the project’s pilot phase. The full program aims to test 12,000 individuals.
The new initiative comes at a time when there’s been a massive push to encourage people to learn their status and get into treatment if they test positive for HIV. Nunn says research has shown that people who are on treatment can reduce the chance of transmitting the virus to others by 96 percent.
Elhadji Ndiaye, a community organizer with the Southwest Community Development Corporation (CDC) welcomes the new HIV testing initiative. He’s been instrumental in setting up meetings between Nunn’s team and area block captains.
Ndiaye says the “Do One Thing” initiative could help de-stigmatize HIV among Southwest Philadelphia’s large population of African immigrants.
“We could use their assistance,” Ndiaye says of the “Do One Thing” organizers.
“For some African countries, HIV is still taboo so we are trying to address that and tell our folks that HIV is not a death sentence and if you are positive you can get the help you need,” says Ndiaye.