If you’re doin’ it, do it right!
Credit: S.F. Examiner file photos
Getting tested for an STI is as simple as a finger prick.
But think about it this way: getting tested and knowing your sexual health status is a vital part of your health care routine.
“When we’re growing up and our baby teeth fall out and we get our adult teeth, we start going to the dentist because we need to maintain that part of our bodies,” said Kevin Murphy of the Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC). “When we hit puberty and we start having sex, it’s similar – we need to make sure we’re keeping up with the maintenance of that part of our bodies as well.”
To smash the stigma around getting tested and encourage more people to start doin’ it, RHAC is running its fourth annual Are You Doin’ It? campaign in partnership with the Middlesex-London Health Unit, London InterCommunity Health Centre’s Options Clinic, Youth Opportunities Unlimited, Fanshawe College and Western University. Testing Week runs from September 23 to 27.
“The campaign is all about increasing the awareness for testing initiatives for HIV and STIs,” said Dr. Carlen Costa, Regional Coordinator of HIV/AIDS Services at RHAC. “It’s about getting our numbers out there, getting people to know their status, and erasing the stigma that’s associated with HIV and STIs…It’s all about empowering people to know their status.”
Costa said the campaign especially targets young people, as they tend to be highly sexually active. “It’s about being responsible for your sexual health and being accountable for not only yourself, but the partners you engage with.”
Approximately 30 per cent of people living with HIV in Ontario don’t know it. In 2010, Southwest Ontario saw a 10 per cent increase in the number of HIV diagnoses – one of the largest increases in the province. RHAC is encouraging people who are sexually active to know their status by getting tested annually – or more often, depending on how many sexual partners or possible exposures to HIV and other STIs that they may have.
Are You Doin’ It? shows people just how easy it is to get tested, said Murphy, subcommittee lead for the campaign promotions. “We’re trying to normalize the experience a little bit so people make it a regular part of their health care routine.” Some STIs never show symptoms, so it’s possible to be infected and not even know it. “Testing is the only way to know your HIV status for sure ... The earlier you know, the easier treatment can be.”
One quick way to find out your HIV status is to do a rapid point-of- care test. The Options Clinic at 659 Dundas St. is the only place in London that offers this type of test, said Murphy.
The test is “comparable to a pinprick, similar to what people with diabetes use to test their insulin levels,” explained Murphy. The test analyzes the blood for HIV antibodies and gives results in about five minutes. If HIV antibodies are present, it means you’ve been exposed to HIV, and the next step is a confirmatory test.
Testing is always anonymous. “Some people are a little bit worried about that,” Murphy said. “You don’t have to bring a health card – you don’t even have to give your real name, it’s just a number.”
The Options Clinic and the Middlesex-London Health Unit both offer pre- and post-test counselling. “It’s about discussing your options for treatment and connecting with a healthcare provider,” Murphy said. “Even if you get a negative test, it’s important to talk about that result and affirm what you’ve been doing to be safe or be aware of your risk.”
RHAC will be on campus throughout Sexual Health Awareness Week: on September 17 for Condom Casino in Forwell Hall at 8 p.m.; on September 18 for Sex Toy Bingo at The Out Back Shack at 9 p.m.; and on September 19 for Tony Lee XXX Hypnotist in Forwell Hall at 9 p.m. Dr. Carlen Costa will also be in Forwell Hall at noon on September 19 for a TLC (Toys, Lube and Condoms) sex education show, which includes trivia, games and prizes.
Getting tested isn’t only important during Sexual Health Awareness Week – it’s a year-round matter. Rapid point-of-care testing is available at the Options Clinic at the London InterCommunity Health Centre (659 Dundas St.) – make an appointment by calling 519-673- 4427. Get tested for HIV and STIs at the Middlesex-London Health Unit (50 King. St) – drop in Mondays and Wednesdays between 5 and 7 p.m., or Fridays between 8:30 and 10 a.m.
Check out testingweek.ca for more information about Are You Doin’ It? and to find the closest testing site. Learn more about RHAC at hivaidsconnection.ca.