Did you know that pretty much every day is a holiday? Some dates are so great that they have MULTIPLE holidays.
For instance, June 27th was National Ice Cream Cake Day (yum), National Onion Day (okay… sure), National Sunglasses Day (cool), AND National HIV Testing Day (even cooler).
And while it’s fun to have officially widely recognized dates for celebrating things like these, you don’t need a holiday to appreciate them. ANY day can be your HIV Testing Day.
First observed in 1995, NHTD is all about empowering communities to raise awareness, combat stigma, promote healthy practices, and provide thorough care for everyone. It’s important to get tested, know your status, and have access to proper care. This year’s catchy slogan is “My Test, My Way” as we’re placing emphasis on the many different ways that many different kinds of people can get their HIV test done.
Nobody wants testing to be a difficult process. For many, almost any kind of health-related errand can be intimidating. From the idea of medical professionals in general to simply leaving your comfortable home, getting a test can seem like a challenge, but thankfully there are more HIV and STI testing options than ever before, including at-home self-testing! My Test, My Way is about taking charge of your health by finding what’s right for you.
Allow me to introduce Building Healthy Online Communities (BHOC), a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners who are working together to support HIV and STI prevention online. Co-founded in 2014 by Dan Wohlfeiler and Jen Hect, who together have over 50 years of combined experience with HIV and STI prevention, BHOC has built strong relationships with these app and website owners, collaborating on things like dating profile options, placement of public health messaging, and an accessible, medically-accurate sexual health guide that all aim to help people make informed choices in their daily lives.
I took a moment to personally ask Jen Hecht, director of BHOC, about an exciting new initiative bringing FREE home test kits for HIV and STIs directly and discreetly to people’s doors. Because, wow. That sounds bonkers. FREE? For ANYONE? To WHEREVER they live??
As a lifelong HIV prevention worker, Jen is passionate about bringing together really smart people with different skill sets to tackle supremely important community health issues. Not only does Jen support community research, she and her colleagues put that research to action. Jen and her fellows have brainstormed with bar owners about bringing increased pacing of alcohol intake to gay bars, assessed what dating app owners and public health leaders can do together to promote sexual health, and eventually formed the TakeMeHome™ HIV/STI home-testing program. TakeMeHome allows any state or local health department to sign up and make free testing kits available to people in their communities. SFAF just joined and is going live very soon.
It turns out that a lot of people have never tested for HIV before. A full one-third of the program’s users reported so. That’s exactly why TakeMeHome exists. If you can get a test delivered to you at NO cost and all you have to do is mail it in, you’re much more likely to get it done. TakeMeHome is bringing sexual health screening into people’s lives and making it easy, free, and non-judgemental. They’ve already put out over 30,000 kits in the first 3 months!
All a potential user has to do is answer 3 eligibility questions then put in their address to get a test sent to them. It only takes 1 minute to order an HIV oral swab kit. As for STIs, many locations are rolling out that full lab-based testing, enabling users to screen for 3-site chlamydia and gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV. Plus, there’s creatinine screening for PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a highly recommended HIV prevention strategy). The difference for these tests is that a user creates an account, collects specimens at home, mails specimens back to the lab, and then signs back into the user portal to check results. Just a few straight-forwards steps, and you’re all set.
While TakeMeHome™ was designed with a focus on reaching men who have sex with men (MSM) who use dating apps, the platform is open to anyone over age 17 who hasn’t had a recent HIV test. BHOC wants to support health partners who are prioritizing all communities that could benefit from home testing, and that includes trans and non-binary people, sex workers, and people who inject drugs. It’s an amazing project that’s making HIV testing simple and accessible for as many people as they can.
So what are you waiting for? Snag a free home-testing kit online, then grab your onion-flavored ice cream cake, slap on some shades, sit back, and enjoy your day, your way.
Are you representing/connected with a health department? Find all kinds of cool information about the program and how to join on BHOC’s website.
We are open! Sexual health testing and HIV services are available at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.