(Mar 22, 2010) – San Francisco AIDS Foundation has introduced free, confidential HIV testing to the services it provides along the Sixth Street corridor, one of the city’s hot spots for HIV infection. The new services expand on the agency’s successful HIV testing program at Magnet, its community health center for gay men in the Castro, and its efforts to encourage early diagnosis.
“Sixth Street is well-trafficked by many San Franciscans most vulnerable to HIV infection,” said Barbara Kimport, interim CEO of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. “By introducing HIV testing to places like Sixth Street where HIV continues to be a major problem, we move one step closer to radically reducing new infections in San Francisco.”
The new HIV testing program focuses on people engaging in high-risk behaviors who may not otherwise have regular access to medical care and counseling services, particularly intravenous drug users and African-American men who are having sex with men.
“It’s time to break the cycle of hundreds of new HIV infections each year in San Francisco,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the HIV Section of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “Today, we have the tools to prevent the spread of HIV, and I am pleased to see San Francisco AIDS Foundation putting those tools to work in collaboration with other local services providers in a neighborhood where there is great need.”
The Sixth Street corridor is the major artery to the Tenderloin, one of four San Francisco neighborhoods with the highest HIV prevalence. In addition, the South-of-Market area, which includes Sixth Street, has one of the city’s highest concentrations of HIV cases among intravenous drug users.
HIV testing and linkages to prevention and care programs among populations at high risk for HIV are important strategies for reducing new infections. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than half of new infections are spread by HIV-positive people who are unaware they are infected.
Targeting Acute Infection
Expansion of HIV counseling and testing is part of an initiative launched by San Francisco AIDS Foundation last year to target acute infection, the earliest stage of the virus when people are at exceptionally high risk of transmitting HIV to sexual and needle-sharing partners. Public health officials estimate that as many as half of new HIV infections are transmitted by people in the first two months after exposure.
The pioneering program began at Magnet, the agency’s community health center in the Castro, where viral ribonucleic acid (RNA) testing is used for clients at elevated risk. The test can detect acute HIV infections as early as two weeks after exposure during a period in which the infection is not otherwise detectable using routine antibody tests. If a client is diagnosed with acute HIV infection, he is encouraged to notify his sexual partners and refer them to Magnet for priority testing. People identified at high risk for acute HIV infection include people who have recently engaged in unprotected sex as a receptive partner or injection drug users who have shared needles. Clients receiving an RNA test are counseled to act as if they are HIV-positive until the final test results are back from the lab, which can take up to two weeks.
HIV screening will be available each Friday at San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s client service headquarters at 1 Sixth Street between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. and at the agency’s needle exchange site at 117 Sixth Street between noon and 2 p.m. New services on Sixth Street include RNA and routine HIV antibody testing, as well as hepatitis C testing. As part of a comprehensive approach in neighborhoods with high HIV incidence, the foundation works collaboratively with local service providers including South of Market Health Center, Tom Waddell Health Clinic, Tenderloin Health and the ISIS Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital.
Local Media Partnership
The new HIV testing services are being promoted on a large billboard directly opposite the agency’s 1 Sixth Street location. The billboard is part of a new collaboration between San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the “Greater Than AIDS” campaign, a national movement to mobilize hard-hit communities in response to AIDS, with a focus on reaching African-Americans.
Through targeted advertising in Bay Area radio, print, and outdoor media, the partnership with Greater Than AIDS promotes local HIV/AIDS education and testing resources, including the California AIDS Hotline (1-800-367-AIDS). The volunteer-staffed hotline is operated by San Francisco AIDS Foundation and provides free, confidential HIV information and referrals to local testing sites to approximately 70,000 anonymous callers from throughout California every year. The advertising space for the Sixth Street billboard is made available by CBS Outdoor, a Greater Than AIDS media partner. Additional media partners contributing to increased HIV/AIDS awareness in the Bay Area include Clear Channel Outdoor, Clear Channel Radio (KMEL 106.1FM), Blu Line Media, and ESSENCE Communications.
About San Francisco AIDS Foundation:
San Francisco AIDS Foundation works to ensure the HIV epidemic ends in the same city where it began. By combining innovative, evidence-based programs for HIV prevention and care with bold policy initiatives focused on issues ranging from harm reduction to total health and wellness, the agency is making sustainable progress against HIV among populations most vulnerable to the disease. Established in 1982, San Francisco AIDS Foundation refuses to accept that HIV transmission is inevitable.
About “Greater Than AIDS” :
“Greater Than AIDS” is a new national movement that seeks to unite black Americans in response to HIV/AIDS. Through the Black AIDS Media Partnership (BAMP), major U.S. media companies are working together to distribute Greater Than AIDS public service ads and other content across the country. The effort is managed by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Black AIDS Institute in coordination with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Act Against AIDS initiative. For more information: www.greaterthanaids.org
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