That’s all it takes to get free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing results from Pacific Pride Foundation’s mobile testing van, what foundation staffers like to call the Health Utility Vehicle (HUV).
The van was funded by a grant from Cottage Health and custom-made to house two offices with privacy so PPF can conduct rapid STD testing, offer counseling and go over results with people. “We find it’s more successful to go to the people instead of asking them to come to the office,” says Ken Osepyan, education and prevention coordinator for Pacific Pride Foundation. It eliminates the stigma and makes it easy to follow up with a 20-minute result period.
The tests require two drops of blood — one for each test — from a finger print, like a diabetes test. Pacific Pride works with community partners to identify locations with high-risk populations and takes the van there for testing sessions. “Clients suggest places and times to go, they’re very open to the possibility and share with others to spread the word,” Colette Schabram, our Executive Director says.
The HUV makes weekly visits to Lompoc — which has no Pacific Pride office — and has gone to events recently at college campuses, job fairs and community events. It also cooperates with businesses, including nightclubs and an adult bookstore, to park in front and offer testing to patrons and passersby.
“We’re matching trends of who is most at risk of HIV and where most of them are in Santa Barbara County,” Schabram said. “The 18-to-24-year-olds are a rapidly growing population contracting HIV, which is why we visit SBCC, UCSB and Allan Hancock in Santa Maria monthly.” Pacific Pride educates people about harm reduction, but people who get tested aren’t scolded for not using condoms, clinical programs coordinator Cynthia Camacho said. “We’re trying to be realistic with people,” she explained. Clients are referred to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department or Planned Parenthood for a comprehensive STD screening.
Fourteen newly diagnosed cases of HIV were reported in 2015, and there were seven people diagnosed in just the first three months of 2016, according to the Public Health Department. “This trend tells me this service is needed more now than ever,” Camacho said.
Pacific Pride is also reaching out to medical providers to offer training on PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, so they can inform patients, Osepyan said. It is a daily medication designed to lower the risk of HIV infection for high-risk individuals, such as people with a HIV-positive partner. Using condoms correctly, minimizing the number of partners, and avoiding substances that impair decision-making are three ways to be as sexually healthy as possible. Condoms are the only birth control that reduces the risk of both pregnancy and STDs, but they cannot always protect against some STDs such as herpes, syphilis or human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts and cervical cancer, according to the CDC. Sexually transmitted diseases don’t always cause symptoms, but the CDC recommends frequent testing for sexually active adults. Both Pacific Pride Foundation offices offer free and anonymous HIV and Hepatitis C testing, syringe exchange, free mental health services, HIV prevention and education, and youth services.