Expanded opportunities for free HIV testing will be available as part of the fifth annual National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day.
The Columbia/Boone County Department of Health will sponsor the events in Columbia and Jefferson City on Friday and Monday, the actual day of observance. Columbia is one of more than 60 cities in the United States that will sponsor programs.
Thel Sargent, health education and risk reduction specialist at the health department, said the agency frequently takes advantage of publicity from national testing days to organize STD and HIV prevention and outreach events.
“I really want people to be aware of what’s going on,” Sargent said. “Just come out and be aware of your status.”
Bill Monroe, regional HIV counseling and testing coordinator, said the health department is part of a consortium of health organizations from 33 counties in north-central Missouri that works to prevent the spread of HIV. Many of its prevention activities and resources are targeted toward segments of the population that have a higher risk for contracting HIV.
African Americans fall into that category. While they make up only about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they comprise more than 38 percent of all AIDS cases reported in the United States in 2003.
Regional figures indicate 48.3 percent of those who tested positive in north-central Missouri in 2003 were black. Boone County had the highest mortality rates related to HIV infection in this region, Monroe said.
The health department will offer expanded hours Friday and Monday for OraQuick and OraSure HIV testing. Both methods require no needles and are more than 99 percent accurate.
OraSure involves the use of an oral swab, and results can take up to two weeks. OraQuick testing provides results in as little as 20 minutes but requires a pin stick to draw blood from the fingertip.
Sargent said that while there are no strict guidelines for how often adults should be tested for HIV, people should be tested once or twice a year, depending on their sexual history.