New Mobile Testing Unit Rolls Out in San Francisco

This Valentine’s Day, San Francisco AIDS Foundation showed love for our community by rolling out our new mobile testing unit in the Castro. It’s replacing the more than 10-year-old converted RV camper van formerly used by Stop AIDS Project, and will allow the mobile testing team to be able to serve an even greater number of clients in the coming years with an expanded menu of services. We caught up with the team before their first shift with the new unit to snap some pics and get the inside scoop about what’s new and exciting about this much-needed new HIV testing site.


Andy Connors, the foundation’s venue testing coordinator, gave us a peek at the interior of the mobile unit.

“This van was designed specifically to be a mobile clinic. The previous van was actually a converted recreational vehicle — the original owner used it to go camping. We made it work, and it met our needs at the time. But it’s exciting to have a mobile unit specifically designed for testing and counseling,” explained Connors.

The new mobile unit includes three client rooms and a designated space for a phlebotomist to process blood samples. The design will eventually allow the team to conduct HIV RNA testing, so that very recent or acute infections can be detected (which standard antibody tests may not detect) and offer asymptomatic sexually transmitted infection screenings for syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. 

One limitation of the former mobile unit was that it didn’t have enough space inside for test counselors to have more than one private conversation with a client at a time. That meant counselors would — with a client’s permission — talk to the client outside of the van, sitting on the back bumper, for instance, or in chairs set up outside of the RV.

This is solved in the new mobile unit by the three private testing and counseling rooms — each with closeable doors that allow for private conversations between HIV test counselors and testing clients. In addition to helping ensure client confidentiality, an increase in the number of private spaces available will allow the testing team to serve a greater number of people each night. In 2014, the mobile unit conducted over 1,200 tests; with the new van, the team expects to conduct around 2,000 tests per year — an increase of 65 percent.  

“Mobile testing is important because it allows us to reach people who weren’t planning to test and made a spontaneous decision to test because the van was there. Plus, the mobile testing unit is open at times — like later at night —  after Magnet is closed, and provides testing  in other neighborhoods where clients may have fewer options for testing ,” says Steve Gibson, director of Magnet.

Connors pointed to one final feature of the new unit — one that may go unnoticed but is important nonetheless. The new mobile unit comes with stabilizers — which prevent the entire unit from rocking when someone steps on or off the van. “The old RV didn’t have stabilizers, which made it potentially difficult for us to do blood draws, so this new feature will make blood draws quite a bit easier,” says Connors.

The new mobile testing unit was made possible with funding from Chevron, Gilead Sciences, and Walgreens.

When was your last HIV test? San Francisco AIDS Foundation recommends HIV testing every three months for all gay and bisexual men and transgender men and women who are sexually active or use intravenous drugs.  

You can find the new mobile testing unit around San Francisco by following the van on twitter: @testmesf. You can also check out the testing calendar to know when it’s in your area or call 415-487-8037 for current days and locations.




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