This week Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest is offering free HIV testing in four Alaska locations. It started today (Monday 12/10) and runs through Friday.
The free HIV testing is available at Anchorage Fairbanks, Juneau and Soldotna Planned Parenthood Health Centers. Clover Simon is a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood in Anchorage. She says this is the first time the organization has been able to provide free testing statewide for a full week.
“We haven’t had the opportunity to do this in the past. We’re using a special fund this year that is a donor-initiated fund for services. And so we’re able to offer free testing this week. and we’re doing it in honor of world AIDS day which was December 1st as a way to continue to remind our patients and the public that knowing your status is the best prevention for HIV.”
Simon says you can just walk in to any of the locations to get a test. You have two choices she says, and it doesn’t take long.
“We are offering both the oral test as well as the blood draw. The advantage to the oral test is that you’re basically just taking a swab of your gums. And we can give you the results of your test within 20 minutes and it doesn’t involve any needles.”
The swab test is fairly accurate but a positive result would have to be confirmed by a blood test. Simon says. Blood tests are nearly 100 percent accurate. It takes about a week to get those results back. There were 24 cases of HIV diagnosed in Alaska in 2011, bringing the number of known cases to 61. Eight of those cases were related to an outbreak of HIV in Fairbanks.
“The state rolled in right away and did some investigation and was able to isolate and tested many partners and as far as I know that outbreak has been contained. But I think that’s the issue with small communities and with rural populations and the small populations in Alaska is if you have one positive person you have situations where you have people sharing needles if its intravenous drug use or people having multiple anonymous sex partners, it’s very easy to transmit HIV.”
Simon says part of the reason Planned Parenthood is offering the free HIV tests is to prevent another such outbreak. There have been just under 1500 documented cases of HIV in Alaska since 1982, when the state began tracking it. Besides the free testing at the four planned parenthood locations this week. HIV testing is also available on a sliding scale at public health centers and village clinics statewide. Alaska Native beneficiaries do not pay when they get tested at village clinics.