The Coastal Health District will offer free HIV testing in Savannah to commemorate World AIDS Day on Thursday.
The public health department is offering the tests from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at Forsyth Park in conjunction with the Georgia AIDS Coalition to commemorate World AIDS Day.
“People get tested every day for diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and a lot of other things that can be harmful to their health — and HIV is no different,” Coastal Health District HIV Director Susan Alt said in a news release. “Educating yourself about your health is the first step in taking better control over it.”
Instead of drawing blood, the confidential tests will be conducted with OraQuick Advance Tests, which use a swab of the mouth and gums, according to public health educator Lakeya Pressley. Results will be available within 20 minutes.
The tests are free, confidential and available to anyone older than 13.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one out of five people living with HIV/AIDS in America is unaware of their HIV status.
“Yes, many people still struggle with believing they are invincible or ‘This can’t happen to me,’” Pressley said. “It’s much easier to break down the barriers when you educate the people and let them know how important it is to get tested.”
Currently, Georgia ranks fifth in the nation for newly diagnosed cases of HIV, and Savannah ranks second in the state for reported cases of HIV, according to a Coastal Health District news release.
And though the virus has a major presence locally, many governments and organizations are teaming up to raise awareness for safe practices and to reduce the number of new infections.
The health department and a prevention team are working together to educate the public on how all types of sexual contact increases the risk of contracting the virus, she said. More than 90 percent of people with HIV were infected through sexual contact, according to www.worldaidsday.org.
“With that being said, it is important to lead by example,” she said. The group recently had a testing even with the Chatham County Youth Commission, where teens ages 13 through 18 were tested and given shirts that say “I Know My Status.”
Officials believe that getting more people to discuss the controversial topic will ultimately lead to a reduction in new infections.
“Talking openly about HIV can reduce the stigma that keeps too many from seeking the testing, prevention and treatment services, and support they need,” a CDC fact sheet said.
Abstinence, mutual monogamy, reduced number of sexual partners and condoms are the most effective strategies for reducing risk of HIV.
World AIDS Day is observed every year on Dec. 1. This global effort
is designed to encourage public
support and programming to pre-
vent the spread of HIV infection; provide awareness and education about HIV/AIDS; and demonstrate compassion for those infected or affected by HIV.
This program was made possible in part by a grant from the Georgia Department of Public Health HIV Unit and with funding from the CDC.
For more information on the testing, call Pressley at 912-651-2251 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.