New campaign encourages HIV testing among at-risk groups

D.C. officials and Aids advocates on Tuesday launched a campaign to raise awareness and encourage HIV testing among at-risk groups, hoping to stem the spread of the disease.

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An estimated 10,000 District residents don’t know they are infected with the HI-virus, which means they may unwittingly pass the virus on to others. Health experts say these individuals are responsible for more than 70 percent of new infections.

“Someone I was dating told me they were (HIV)negative. And at the time, I was negative. We decided hey we're dating we're seeing only each other, what's the need for condoms,” said Rodney McCoy.

McCoy was diagnosed with HIV on January 29, 2002.

“I became sick with what I thought was the flu and something said go get tested. I didn't think I was infected but I went anyway and as it turned out I was positive,” he recalls.

The National Association of People with Aids founded the national gay men's HIV/Aids awareness day.

“That will actually save lives because they'll accept services, know their HIV status, and we'll reduce the spread of HIV,” said the association’s Frank Oldham, Jr.

D.C. health officials used the event to launch a new campaign that will encourage HIV testing, treatment and condom use among drug users, heterosexual black women and gay men.”

“There are pilots for this program that have been successful in New York and San Francisco that bring in as many 25 percent positive of those who are tested, so it's a highly successful program that we're also hoping will work in D.C.,” said Dr. Gregory Pappas of the D.C. Department of Health.

The program uses social pressure, encouragement, even coupons and incentives to motivate individuals to get tested.

"We're finally saying enough of the stigma that it's time for us to act," McCoy said. Nearly 10 years after he was diagnosed, he now works as an advocate in the black community among men who have sex with men. He hopes telling his story will help others come forward.

"We say we've been there, with risky behaviors. we're gay and bisexual men. you don't have to be afraid to say who you are and what your needs are," he said.

 

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