Lowcountry AIDS Services is adding a mobile HIV testing van to its array of services that support people living with HIV and AIDS while also providing prevention, free testing and education. This new initiative – aimed at reaching rural and high-needs communities – is made possible by a $50,000 grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Formed 25 years ago, the Elton John AIDS Foundation has a mission of ending the AIDS epidemic by ensuring everyone has the information and means to prevent infection, and all people living with HIV have access to high-quality medical care and treatment. In 2017, the foundation gave out almost $9.5 million to organizations throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.
The new testing van furthers that mission for the tri-county area. In 2017, LAS embarked upon the initial phase of expanded testing, outreach and HIV prevention education to rural areas of Dorchester and Berkeley counties as well as targeted high-risk communities in Charleston County.
Lowcountry AIDS Services has partnered with Walgreens to offer free HIV and hepatitis C testing at eight locations across the tri-county area on a monthly basis. Additionally, LAS has formed a partnership with the detention centers in each county to offer testing for inmates. This first phase resulted in testing more than 250 individuals and the dissemination of prevention education to more than 1,000 individuals in rural and high-needs communities. With the addition of the mobile testing van, Lowcountry AIDS Services expects to test an additional 500 people.
In 2017 Lowcountry AIDS Services provided more than 1,600 free HIV tests and discovered 20 new HIV cases. Lowcountry AIDS Services provides free HIV testing at its office in North Charleston four days a week, and while that a great service to the community, it also puts the onus on people in need to secure transportation and other obstacles to testing and prevention and services.
“We are incredibly grateful to the Elton John AIDS Foundation for giving us the opportunity to help even more people in our community,” said Bradley Childs, executive director of Lowcountry AIDS Services. “For communities with high levels of poverty and limited health resources, whose residents are unable to find transportation to the metro Charleston area for care and testing, a mobile testing van allows us to provide services directly to individuals right in their own community, therefore, increasing our presence and raising awareness in these areas.”
The mobile testing van will be outfitted to provide a secure and confidential testing space, including a temperature-controlled environment necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the testing kits. This means Lowcountry AIDS Services can conduct community testing events on even the hottest summer day.
In addition to providing free and confidential HIV testing, the mobile testing van gives Lowcountry AIDS Services the opportunity to hand out free condoms, safer sex information and increase access to PrEP, a daily pill that can greatly reduce the risk of HIV infection.
Plus, individuals who test positive will be immediately linked to the medical case management team, which assists clients with services like prescription assistance, medication adherence counseling, public benefit assistance, housing assistance, emergency financial assistance, legal assistance, peer support groups, mental health counseling, drug addiction support and more.
Lowcountry AIDS Services expects to have the van outfitted and ready for testing throughout Charleston, Dorchester and Berkeley counties by the end of the first quarter.