July 18th, 2012
This October I propose a new tradition: give a gift to someone. Not just any gift, but one very specific gift. And not to your mom or that lovely family across the street.
In October the OraQuick home HIV test will show up at your local drugstore. Instead of taking an afternoon off of work to go down to the local clinic and give your ever-professional local government representative your name, social security number, sexual orientation, and a count of everyone you’ve had sex with – along with what position you used, how you met them, how many times you had sex with them, and explicit details about the sexual encounter – you can test yourself at home. Privately. And you won’t even need to takes notes about yourself on a clipboard or enter data into a database that is “confidential” until a civil servant leaves it on the bus.
The test takes 20 minutes, is 99% accurate, and involves nothing more invasive than running a lightly swab over your gums. You can make an omelet, go for a jog, watch TV, or even say “please God no” over and over for 20 minutes – but when it’s over you will know whether or not you were infected with HIV as recent as three months ago (in some rare cases six months ago). If you want assurance about more recent events, you can get a nucleic acid test which looks for the virus itself and shortens the window of uncertainty to two or three weeks – but then you’re back to dealing with blood and people with a clipboard and a little lecture at the ready.
And the cost is not prohibitive. It has not yet been publicized, but is expected to be somewhere between $18 and $60 (And listen up, OraQuick, unless you want a whole pile of ill will, you’d best keep it closer to $18 than $60). But even at the upper end, you have three months to save up. So buy two.
Perhaps you believe that you already know that you are negative. Test anyway. It won’t kill you to have more information (and it might just save your life) and if you can’t think of another reason, it gives you bitching rights when you coerce your friend (you know the one) who you really think needs to be tested and is making up excuses.
I say buy two because the second one should be a gift. But a special gift, one you give to a total stranger that you will never meet. Because while you probably can afford to buy a home HIV test, many people cannot. In fact, those who most need to be tested are often those who have the least ability to buy a test. And, in many many cases, they are also those who are the most afraid to go to be seen going to the clinic.
The biggest contributor to the spread of HIV is ignorance about one’s own status. And while there are testing centers aplenty, clearly that isn’t working. Between a quarter and a third of all HIV positive people in this country are unaware that they are carrying the virus, a number that doubles once you get into less affluent communities. And while there are many outlets for testing that are funded by federal or state grants, there are plenty of people who need help – or want to give it – for whom institutional bureaucracies or a trip to the gay community center are not the solution.
So buy a test and give it to a the health science teacher at a high school located in an economically disadvantaged community. Give it to the storefront church that serves an immigrant population. Find a coach for an after-school program for troubled teens. Or a soup kitchen. Or get really brave and walk into the local Church of God in Christ and tell the pastor, “Reverend, I know and you know that someone in your congregation needs this. Pray about it.”
Let’s make this a tradition. Let’s be creative. Let’s find a way to reach the people who are still outside the net, who still don’t have access, who still live in a paradigm of fear. If there is someone they trust – even if it is someone who doesn’t trust you – give that trusted person a testing kit. It will reach the right hands.
And then set yourself a reminder for next October.
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Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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