Seventy Georgetown community members were provided free HIV testing Tuesday in an event co-hosted by the Student Health Center and the Georgetown Medical AIDS Advocacy Network to engage and educate students on the best practices regarding sexually transmitted infections.The testing followed a similar event last semester on World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, when 150 students were tested at the Student Health Center.
GMAAN, which normally works to offer free HIV tests to all patients at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, received a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allowing them to offer the free testing in conjunction with the D.C. Department of Health. Using a rapid blood test method, participants received the results of their tests within 25 minutes.
Students can receive year-round STI testing from the Student Health Center by appointment, with costs varying according to students’ insurance coverage. Students without insurance can be charged up to $271 for HIV testing including lab fees.
Assistant Vice President of Student Health Dr. Vince WinklerPrins, who helped organize the event, said its main goal, besides offering the testing itself, was to help educate students on how often to get tested for STIs.
WinklerPrins said the prevalence of STIs at Georgetown compared to other universities is not above average. However, he said the Student Health Center is initiating more outreach-oriented practices to help educate students on when to get tested — ideally once a year for sexually active adults.
“I don’t think we have any bigger problem than other communities with college students have. But do we have a problem? Yes,” WinklerPrins said. “And if students are sexually active, if that’s something they feel they need to do, then they should know about the consequences of that. We should be having conversations with students about that.”
About 1.2 million people in the United States were living with HIV at the end of 2013, including 156,300 who had not been diagnosed, according to CDC estimates. The CDC website notes that people should receive routine testing for HIV and other STIs.
WinklerPrins said he considers Tuesday’s event a success.
“I feel good about our efforts to do some education and programming during the event, during the wait between when you get tested and when you get the results,” WrinklerPrins said. “I hope some people found it useful and helpful.”
Free HIV testing events will continue next semester according to Nicole Du (COL ’16, MED ’20), who organized the event as a representative of GMAAN. However, according to Du, the group is currently constrained in the testing it is able to offer.
“We only have free HIV tests,” Du said. “We can’t offer any other STI tests at the event because they aren’t free, because to get it organized and send it to a lab, that costs money. Student Health can do it, but it gets billed to insurance or paid out of pocket.”
Reproductive justice group H*yas for Choice Co-president Emily Stephens said the outcome of the event is promising, but it reflects the university’s failure to take action on its own.
“H*yas for Choice is extremely grateful to the medical students who volunteered their time to test students, and think these numbers demonstrate the need for continued free access to certain sexual health services on campus,” Stephens wrote. “While H*yas for Choice is proud of the progress we have made advocating for, planning, and promoting these events, Georgetown University has not done enough to prioritize student health.”
Stephens noted that other universities offer free testing for all STIs on a consistent basis. She also said the Student Health Center did not promote the HIV testing with a campuswide email despite requests from HFC to do so.
“And yet, Georgetown sends numerous emails reminding students of free flu shot opportunities on campus. This double standard perpetuates stigma surrounding sexual health, and H*yas for Choice is disappointed in the university’s lack of action.”
Du said in the future, GMAAN hopes to expand educational opportunities surrounding other STIs, potentially including free tests. Free STI testing is critical due to the fact that many students decide not to get tested because the cost will get billed to their insurance, according to Du.
“From my own experience, my peers — myself included — didn’t know what high-risk sexual behavior was and what that could lead to,” Du said. “I think people don’t understand how often you should get tested or if you’re worried about STIs where to go. It’s cost prohibitive.”