What’s that 33-foot RV decked with a bright San Francisco skyline? An HIV testing clinic on wheels! It’s equipped with everything gay men and other guys who have sex with guys need to get their routine HIV test, when and where they need it. And to mark National HIV Testing Day on June 27, the mobile testing van is launching @testmeSF on Twitter to help more people in our community connect with the HIV testing and sexual health services they need.
We sat down with Jose Luis Guzman, HIV testing services manager at Magnet, to learn more.
First of all, why Twitter?
It’s how people get their news today—about breakups, about celebrities, about everything! We want to make sure that while people are on Twitter getting their celebrity gossip and their economic reports, they can also get some health information.
And it’s an easy, immediate way to find out where our mobile testing van is. People who follow us will get a notice that we’re doing testing tonight in the Mission, for example. They’ll be able to say, “Hey, I haven’t had a test in a while. They’re in the Mission, I’m in the Mission, I’ll go get one.”
The Twitter feed will let people know where the van is headed, help connect them with testing, and remind them that testing is available in different parts of the city. We’ll be at locations in the Castro, South of Market, and the Bayview, as well as some additional venues in the Mission and the Tenderloin, and we’re expanding our mobile testing from two days per week to four days a week.
What are the benefits of mobile testing?
With the increased emphasis on HIV testing and early detection, people are seeking HIV tests more regularly than they have in the past. Mobile testing provides an option for guys who didn’t wake up that morning and think, “I’ll get an HIV test today.” With the mobile testing van, they are able to get tested later in the evenings and on the weekends, and in neighborhoods where there might not be a central clinic where they can get an HIV test.
There’s also definitely stigma playing a role in some of these communities. A van that is known for doing community health work and that’s going out to different venues—for some men who have sex with men, that can be a very helpful option, as opposed to having to go to the Castro.
What other services does the van provide?
Our primary focus is HIV antibody testing. We give out tons of condoms and lube. We also do needle exchange, and we also give referrals for sexually transmitted infection screenings. San Francisco AIDS Foundation recommends HIV testing every six months and STI testing every three months for sexually active gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men.
Getting that routine HIV test doesn’t have to take a lot of time: People who get tested in the van can expect to spend about 20 minutes, from when they walk up and start filling out the registration form to when they walk out with their results.
When someone tests positive, we talk with them to see how they are doing. We give the person space to be able to process the information, while still giving them privacy. We also refer them to treatment—we work with the City LINCS program (Linkage Integration Navigation and Comprehensive Services) to help people get into medical care—and we talk with them about partner services and the importance of getting their partners in for testing.
In addition to using Twitter to share where and when the van is offering services in the city, we will also be tweeting information about upcoming events, reminders about getting tested and frequency of testing, and breaking news about developments in testing and treatment. It’s going to be a great new health resource for the community.
Follow @testmeSF to see when the mobile testing van is coming to a neighborhood near you, and for testing reminders, HIV health facts, and other news. To learn about San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s other HIV testing sites, visit www.sfaf.org/client-services/testing.