David Thompson, a community outreach specialist with the Ryan White Programs says, "nationwide we know that there are approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV and about a quarter of those have no idea they have the virus."
Thompson says those statistics are what makes the work the Ryan White CARE program does so important. Since 1996, the GRU Ryan White Outreach team has worked to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS throughout the CSRA. With the help of local businesses, churches and groups, the team has been able to combat the spread of infection by delivering approximately 900 free rapid HIV tests a year.
"It takes the place of the first half of the blood test. So, it lets us either know that somebody is negative or that we need to test them further and move on to the second half of the blood test. If we do find someone that is preliminary positive, we actually walk them through the process of getting that second blood work done and it will help them get into care," Thompson explains.
Care that more than 1300 people are currently receiving through GRU's outreach team. Residents like Eimily Plocha say programs like this one could help ease the stigma associated with the virus through actions, not just words.
Plocha adds, "I'd really like to see more people find out about it and do something about it rather than just talking about it. Actually get themselves tested and tell other people to get themselves tested."
Plocha and Thompson agree that one of the biggest things that could make a difference: Knowing your status, even if you don't suspect you're sick.
"If we get people into care early, not only does it keep them from getting sick, but it also reduces the chance of them spreading the virus to their partners," Thompson says.
A rapid HIV test could take as little as 20 minutes and with National HIV Testing Day just a few days away, visit www.csrasafetynet.org for a list of free testing sites and schedules.
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