New York Initiative Uses Mobile HIV Testing to Raise Awareness
The New York Times recently examined the use of mobile health vans in New York's Westchester County to administer HIV tests to members of the community. According to the Times, Westchester County has the highest HIV prevalence in the state, outside of New York City. Joshua Lipsman, the county health commissioner, estimates that about 3,000 to 5,000 people in Westchester County are HIV-positive, 20% of whom are unaware of their status.
According to the Times, one obstacle for public health officials in fighting HIV is reaching people who do not receive regular health care. The mobile health vans have added beauty parlors and barber shops to their list of stops in an effort to reach more people and address fear and stigma associated with the virus, according to Carol Morris, executive director of the Mount Vernon Neighborhood Health Center. Morris, whose clinic administered 10,000 HIV tests in 2008, said people "worry someone might think they are involved in risky behavior" if they take an HIV test, and the program is "trying to have people understand that getting the AIDS test is like getting an immunization."
The testing program is part of a larger initiative between the county's Department of Health and local social service organizations to address the health disparity between blacks and whites. A study commissioned by the county in 2005 found that blacks in Westchester have higher rates of illness than whites and often delay seeking care. The Times reports that the disparity is "particularly acute" with HIV and that 50% of all cases in the county are among blacks, who account for 14% of the population. According to the health department, Hispanics comprise about 18% of the county's population but represent almost one-third of the HIV-positive residents.
Za'id Ali -- HIV project coordinator for Open Door Family Medical Centers, which is one of the agencies sponsoring a mobile unit -- said they have had six positive tests so far this year and that young people have begun to seek out the unit for HIV testing, counseling and condoms (Gruen, New York Times, 1/8).