HIV testing in 2021: Quick, simple and inspired by friends

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photo: Gay ACT UP members carrying huge banner that reads THE AIDS CRISIS IS NOT OVER as they walk down the street during Gay & Lesbian Pride march. MICHAEL ABRAMSON/THE LIFE IMAGES COLLECTION VIA GETTY IMAGES

Queer Kentucky and VOA FIT continue HIV education partnership

by Kelsey Westbrook

A stark, fluorescent-lit hallway, hospital-issued outdated chairs lining cinder block walls, the audible tremble of a tapping foot against the floor, a friend clutching a hand staring up with pleading eyes . . .when we think of getting tested for HIV, our minds often go to a scene such as this.

The agony of waiting for test results in a less than comfortable environment was a reality for so many when the HIV/AIDS epidemic took hold in the 80’s and 90’s, but now, this image is one that, thankfully, remains only in television and film.

Gone are the days we see depicted most recently in the television series Pose — HIV testing is now extremely accessible, easy, results are available in less than ninety seconds,m and can often be done in the comfort of our own community center or favorite bar.

Programs like Volunteers of America FIT (Friends Inspiring Testing) are working to ensure that HIV testing is always fast, free, and able to meet folks where they are so that community members are always educated and informed about their health, sexual wellness and safety.

“The instant test we use only takes a minute,” said Valerie Farsetti, Program Manager for the HIV services team at VOA FIT, “the longest part is the questionnaire and the conversations that we have. It takes ten minutes total I would say.”

The team at VOA FIT is working to tackle HIV head-on with various initiatives under the FIT umbrella including free testing, sexual health education, mental health support (individual and group intervention), Hepatitis C testing, and IPV (intimate partner violence) screenings.

“Individuals who have experienced anything under the umbrella of IPV — it puts them at a higher risk of HIV,” said Farsetti.

“The test is very similar to a lancet used for diabetes,” said Derek Guy, Health Education Coordinator for University of Kentucky’s KIRP (Kentucky Income Reinvestment Program).

HIV testers are well versed on what to do if a reactive test result occurs.

“If we were to get a reactive or positive result, we would run a second test, both of those tests are finger pricks,” said Farsetti.

Both VOA FIT and KIRP offer free testing at various community locations, pop-up events, or they can be contacted directly to schedule a free test.

So, what happens if you do receive a reactive or positive test result?

Both Farsetti and Guy emphasized that the most important thing to remember is that a positive result is NOT a death sentence. In addition, it is not a death sentence if your sexual partner tests positive. Linkage to Care is a collection of resources provided to folks immediately upon receiving a reactive test, so, truly, there is not one moment folks are facing HIV alone( as long as they’re testing with VOA FIT. There are many self-testing kits at pharmacies that allow a person to test alone in the location of their choice).

These resources include an HIV care coordinator, help for individuals to disclose their status to partners, healthcare plans and more.

In 2021, testing positive for HIV is “just another component of your health,” said Farsetti. “It’s not your identity anymore just as much as having a heart condition. It’s important to know [HIV status] so that you can take care of yourself and live a long happy life just like your friends and family.”

To schedule your free HIV test, please visit voamid.org.

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