SOUTHERN INDIANA — The AIDS Healthcare Foundation is partnering with Southern Indiana organizations to help the community get free and confidential access to HIV and Hepatitis C testing and treatment options.
Several times a month, a mobile testing unit visits Clark and Floyd counties from its base in Scott County. Anyone 13 or older in the community can access the booth — HIV testing is done by a finger prick and takes 60 seconds for results, Staci Mullins, patient advocate for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said. Hepatitis C takes about seven minutes.
Those who are diagnosed also get connected with treatment options, regardless of their ability to pay. Assistance also is offered for medications for pre-and post-HIV exposure.
“With a large amount of people in Southern Indiana not knowing their status, we wanted to be able to provide that,” Mullins said. “Going out into the communities and areas of need, it's giving us the ability to not only allow people to know their status, but to reduce some stigma and provide education and counseling.”
The mobile testing unit set up shop in Austin almost three years ago, in response to the HIV epidemic Scott County was facing as a result of intravenous drug use and other factors. Testing is available on a regular basis at Foundations Family Medicine in Austin and other locations in the county, as needed.
For the past two years, the mobile unit has also been stationed every first and third Thursday in the alley by the Clark County Courthouse, through a partnership with the Clark County Probation Department. It also make stops at Midtown Commons, an outreach in downtown New Albany run by Northside Christian Church, and at the Salvation Army on Green Valley Road.
But Mullins said the goal is to keep the mobile unit busy — adding new locations and going where individuals and organizations request. New locations are announced on the Community Crusaders Facebook page.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Clark County had 15 new HIV cases reported in 2017, folded into a total of 332 people living in the county with HIV or AIDS. Scott County had eight new cases, bringing its total to 168, and Floyd County had six new cases in 2017 for a total of 32.
Mullins said the eight new cases in Scott County is much lower than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate of 25 new cases projected for 2017.
"They have lowered significantly in Scott County,” she said. “I think part of that has to do with the needle exchange — through their services, the spread of the disease is lessened.”
She also credits Foundations Family Medicine for helping to bring the viral suppression rate — the number of people whose treatment makes HIV undetectable in the body — to 75 percent, higher than the national average of 58.
Dr. Eric Yazel, Clark County health officer, said the testing is welcome: the more people that can access testing, treatment and education, the better.
Having the mobile unit breaks down some of the barriers that people might face when they have to seek testing options. “It's obviously a benefit for everybody,” Yazel said.
He said the number of HIV cases in the county has stabilized thanks, in part, to the mobile testing unit.
“Once we get notified of a [positive] test, the first thing we do is education and surveillance, treat the individual and limit spread,” Yazel said. “So the more people that are tested is a win for the whole county.”
Doug Newland, outreach minister at Northside Christian Church, said partnering with the AHF to bring the unit to Midtown Commons is an extension of their ministry.
“We simply want to assist in any way we can, whether it be food assistance or health assistance,” he said. “We want to be able to get [people] the help that they need.”
In Clark County, probation officer Angela Rubadue helped make the connection after seeing the foundation's booth at the Jeffersonville Pride Festival.
“Something so unique about them is they have instant tests,” she said. “So when people get tested, they get their results right away and can get referrals and treatment set up at the same time.”
The testing is open to anyone, but she ensures everyone who comes through her office is aware of it. The mobile unit also will visit other sites on request — a business, a person's home or neighborhood, for instance.
Rubadue said the response has been good, and helps open the lines of communication.
“When it's presented to them, a lot of people [say] that's really great that this is even offered,” she said. “And with the epidemic that's been in this area, it's important to talk about it and let people feel comfortable getting tested, getting their status, knowing that there is treatment out there and that it's not a death sentence anymore.”