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|June 26-July 2, 2008
‘Knowing is powerful stuff’
Three local leaders get publicly tested for HIV, promote free testing day
Photos and story by Dana Logan
As Hazel Miller, Ben Pearlman and Pamela White stepped on stage, they prepared to find out, publicly, something that many people are apprehensive to hear, even in private. The local leaders — the vocalist, the Boulder County Commissioner and Boulder Weekly editor, respectively — set a public example of how easy and painless an HIV test can be.
“Not only do they want to know their own status, but they want to show our community how easy it is to take the test,” said Ana Hopperstad, executive director of the Boulder County AIDS Project (BCAP).
The purpose of the public test, which took place on a stage in front of the Boulder Courthouse on Tuesday, June 24, at 5 p.m., was to encourage Boulder County residents to find out their own HIV status and to promote National HIV Testing Day on June 27.
“I really did feel a lot better when it was over,” said Pearlman. “It didn’t hurt. It didn’t take that much time. And knowing is powerful stuff.”
Powerful because knowing your status enables you to make the appropriate decisions on how to take responsibility for your own health.
“Information really allows you to make some choices about how to move ahead. So if you do end up having a positive test, you can get into care immediately, and outcomes are really fabulous these days,” said Hopperstad.
With an estimated 40,000 Americans who are newly infected with HIV each year, getting tested on a regular basis, regardless of perceived risk, is of paramount importance for the prevention and early treatment of HIV/AIDS. Roughly 25 percent of the people currently living with HIV are unaware of their HIV-positive status.
Ignorant of their status, one in four HIV positive people is at risk of inadvertently infecting others. But most Americans are hesitant to get tested, and the majority of adults in the United States have never been tested.
“That’s why we’re here today,” said Hopperstad. “To dispel the stigma. To dispel the myths around HIV testing and to educate our community so they will know their status.”
Because it is so important for everyone to know his or her HIV status, BCAP and the Boulder County Public Health Department (BCPH) will be providing free, anonymous HIV testing by both English- and Spanish-speaking testers in Longmont and in Boulder.
On Friday, June 27, HIV testing will be provided from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Powell Building in Longmont, located at 82 21st Ave., behind the Tanglewood Living Community. On Saturday, June 28, testing will be available from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the BCAP office in Boulder, located at 2118 14th St.
The test that residents can get from BCAP or BCPH — and the same test that was administered publicly to local leaders — is called Unigold. It’s an HIV-antibody test that is done with a finger stick and takes about 10 minutes. Three months after a risky behavior — sharing needles or having unprotected sex with someone whose HIV status is unknown — Unigold provides 99.8 percent accurate results. With a test that’s so quick, easy, accurate and accessible, everyone should make it a priority to get tested, health officials say.
“If everybody would take the responsibility to know their HIV status, we’d go a long way to reducing this disease,” said Boulder County Public Health testing counselor Patty Brezovar.
Hazel Miller agreed that it’s about accountability.
“It’s not rocket science. It’s a matter of just being responsible for yourself. That’s why I’m here,” she said.
Understanding that with sexual freedom comes responsibility, Pamela White wants women to take charge of their own health.
“If you’re one of today’s modern women, one thing that you just ought to do as a matter of course: get your pap smear, get your mammogram, get your AIDS test. No biggee. Just do it,” she said.
And as the timer went off, the results of the HIV tests of three local leaders were ready.
“We have three negative HIV tests! That is awesome. These people up here are HIV negative. They know their HIV status,” said Brezovar.
Hopperstad ended the event with a message and a challenge: “Get tested. Know your own status. Encourage your friends and family to get tested so they, too, can be safe. Until we know our status, we’re all at risk. Take control of your life.”
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