TRENTON -- A free, Rapid HIV test that allows people to get results in 20 minutes rather than two weeks is the focus of a year-long, $2 million advertising and public awareness campaign designed to encourage more people to get tested. The television, radio and bus advertising campaign builds on the success of a pilot campaign the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) conducted last year between July and September. That campaign resulted in a five-fold increase in the number of calls to the HIV Helpline (1-866-HIV CHECK) and a nearly 48 percent increase in testing at the height of the campaign.
The sooner you know your HIV status, the sooner you can get treatment. More than 32,000 people in New Jersey are living with HIV/AIDS and nearly half of them are unaware of their status, said Acting Health and Senior Services Commissioner Fred M. Jacobs, MD, JD. We have to reach these individuals so they can be tested and that is why we are repeating last years successful marketing campaign.
The Rapid test overcomes a major obstacle in HIV testing. Getting the results in 20 minutes means people no longer have to wait one or two weeks and return to the testing site to get their results. In 2003, before Rapid testing was available, New Jerseys publicly funded counseling and testing sites performed 67,941 HIV tests. Of those, 23,230 peopleor 34 percentnever returned to the testing site for the results. In contrast, more than 99 percent of the 10,600 people who have taken the Rapid HIV test since it became available in November of 2003 learned their HIV status before they walked out the door.
The Rapid test is a less stressful, more convenient way for people to learn their HIV status, Jacobs said. The 20-minute test campaign targets African American and Latina women because women of color are disproportionately impacted by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. HIV/AIDS is the number one killer of African American women between the ages of 18 and 34. Sixty-three percent of women living with HIV in New Jersey are African American and 18 percent are Latina. More than 10,600 people have already taken the test in one of 51 locations in 14 counties around the state. The Department first began offering the test in November 2003.
Jacobs announced the campaign at St. Michaels Medical Center in Newark, which has administered the Rapid test to 1,742 individuals, the highest number of people tested at any publicly funded counseling and testing site. The test requires less than a single drop of blood from the fingertip. The fingertip is cleaned with alcohol and pricked with a needle to get a small drop of blood. Blood is transferred to a small plastic vial containing a solution. The test device is then inserted into the vial. The results can be read in as little as 20 minutes.
"Advances in the treatment of HIV/AIDS have been among the most important success stories in the modern history of medical science. However these advances are not available to many HIV-infected persons in the African American and Latino communities because they have not had an HIV test and are unaware that they are infected, said Dr. Robert Johnson, professor and chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey/New Jersey Medical School. Increasing public knowledge of the availability of the Rapid HIV test will greatly enhance our ability to provide early treatment and improve the quality of life to many in our community, said Johnson, chairman of the Governors Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.
As evidence of the importance of HIV rapid testing, $3 million is included in the current budget of the Department of Health and Senior Services to perform rapid testing. The test is also available to women in labor who do not know their HIV-infection status. If the Rapid HIV test results are positive, women can receive immediate therapy which could reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their baby by 50 percent.
Trained counselors are available at all sites to meet with each individual who is tested. Counselors will discuss ways to reduce the risk of becoming infected and explain the next steps for those who test positive. Counselors will also explain the need for additional testing for people who have tested negative but who have had recent exposures to HIV.
Source: New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services