“Rates for new infections and for people living with HIV are high in this area [75243 zip code] of Dallas,” said Edgar Gonzalez, the health education coordinator with Project Impact, an outreach and education organization that focuses on AIDS testing and prevention. Project Impact works in partnership with the Richland Health Center in providing free HIV testing. The next round of testing takes place March 6.
“Turnout for the testing has been good,” Gonzalez said.
Most often, it’s Richland students who want the test, but anyone over 18 with an ID can take advantage of the free testing. Comparable HIV tests available in stores can cost $30 to $40.
The rapid finger-stick test gives nearly immediate results and is based on antibody science. If a student reacts positively, a blood draw can also be performed in the health center.
“It is our responsibility to do confirmation testing. We’re a one-stop shop,” Gonzalez said.
The blood draw however, has to be sent to Dallas Health and Human Services, so it takes three to five days for the results to be returned.
Project Impact also offers tests for syphilis. Having syphilis or other STDs can predispose a person to contracting HIV. Diagnosis of these diseases is also done with a quick test offering results in less than 10 minutes.
“Both the HIV and syphilis tests can be done with one finger stick or a total of about three drops of blood,” Gonzalez said.
“They don’t just come in and do a test and send [the students] on their way,” Caroline White, senior manager of the Richland Health Center said. “There’s a lot of counseling because people come in here that have been involved in somewhat of a risky encounter,” she said.
While free condoms are not available at the Health Center, Project Impact and other community agencies give them to people who ask. Most health agencies agree that condoms protect against HIV and other STDs like chlamydia and gonorrhea, which are much more rampant in the community than HIV.
“Not having a condom in this climate, shouldn’t happen,” said Gonzalez.
He stressed that prevention is key. While many people have heard prevention messages about practicing monogamy, using condoms and getting tested, Gonzalez stressed that “asking questions of partners” is critical to preventing infection.
Rates of new infection are highest among males having sex with males, according to statistics from Dallas Health and Human Services, and this is especially the case for African-American men who make up almost half (48 percent) of the new diagnoses, according to 2017 statistics on HIV. Other groups experiencing higher rates of new infections are African-American women and transgender males to females.
“Those are priority populations in Texas specifically and that’s [sic] actually the priority populations here in Dallas locally,” Gonzalez said.
Project Impact and area service organizations like Resource Center, a non-profit organization that operates a large LGBTQ community center in Dallas, educate clients on HIV treatment called PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis through a daily pill. Truvada interferes with viral replication and is recommended for persons who find themselves regularly at risk.
“Early treatment is a big focus,” said Gonzalez, who educates clients and others about the phrase “U equals U”- undetectable means untransmittable.
Recent advances in science show that if an HIV-positive person has a low viral load, under 200, they cannot give the virus to anyone else. The website www.aidsmap.com puts a high viral load around 100,000 and a low viral load at 10,000.
In cases of extremely low viral loads, living with HIV is not that different from management of other chronic diseases like diabetes or hypertension.