This past year, HHC has offered HIV testing and counseling at bathhouses, colleges, senior centers, churches, street fairs, and even at the beach. Although HHC has successfully increased the number of people tested for HIV by making it a routine part of medical care, now a variety of programs are bringing HIV testing to those New Yorkers who might not already be engaged in some type of medical service.
"In addition to expanding the routine offering of HIV testing within our facilities, we're constantly looking at new ways to test in a variety of settings, even with our limited resources," added Terry Hamilton, Director for HIV Services at HHC. "We're trying to be creative in our efforts to increase testing while addressing the huge stigma around HIV."
All of this is part of a campaign to identify the 25% of people living with HIV who are unaware of their status, and get them into treatment as quickly as possible.
One outreach example is the HHC HIV CBO Testing Project. By working with community-based organizations such as Life Force: Women Fighting AIDS, the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS, and the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force, HHC is able to increase testing throughout the city and direct people to treatment and supportive services right in their neighborhoods.
Making testing more available to men at high risk for HIV is the goal of the research and clinical study headed up by Bellevue's Dr. Demetre Daskalakis. The Men's Sexual Health Project (M-SHP) provides HIV testing, STD screening, counseling and direct connections to healthcare for men who have sex with men at local bathhouses.
“We operate as a satellite clinic of Bellevue, with direct access to the electronic medical records system. From the bathhouse we are able to connect directly to the HHC network. Appointments for newly diagnosed men are made on the spot, and 83% of the men are connected to care and are making a first visit within 2 weeks.”
Standard HIV testing provides no information about how much virus is present or when infection might have occurred. M-SHP adds viral load testing to the mix, making it possible to identify infection that might otherwise go undetected. Research has shown that people with HIV are most infectious right after becoming infected.
The M-SHP services are unique and yield results. Of the men tested, 3.6% were newly diagnosed, and 37% of those are men whose diagnosis would have gone undetected if not for the supplemented testing procedures.
“We're able help these men get into treatment quickly, reducing their potential to infect others,” added Dr. Daskalakis.
"We try to reach people who don't or can't come to our hospitals or health centers," said Patricia M. Johnson, LCSW, coordinating manager of HIV services at Renaissance Healthcare Network in Manhattan, one of HHC's six large diagnostic and treatment centers. "By expanding our hours and taking testing to where they are, we can reach all kinds of folks who are willing to be tested, if the service is accessible."
Over the past three years, HHC facilities have provided over 450,000 HIV tests. By making HIV testing a routine part of medical care, 1,863 people were newly diagnosed last year alone.