Illinois, Georgia: Testing for HIV Together, Hearing Results Together
February 14, 2012
Supported by the MAC AIDS Fund, the innovative "Testing Together" program encourages gay male couples in Chicago and Atlanta to get tested for HIV together and hear their results together. After delivering the results, a trained counselor facilitates the couple's discussion about what to do next, including any agreements they may want to make about sex and how they will protect each other from infection.
The aim is to bring honesty to sexual relationships, said Rob Stephenson of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta. Relationships offer only "mythical protection" against HIV, said Stephenson, one of the researchers behind the program. Some partners may rationalize that "If he were HIV-positive he would have told me," or "If he wanted to know, he would have asked."
Testing Together hopes to test 400 couples by the end of the year. Each participant signs a consent form that addresses receiving counseling, testing and results with a partner in the same room at the same time. Counselors are trained to dispel transmission-related HIV myths; particular attention is given to couples in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is negative. The counselor can help the HIV discordant couple learn ways to protect the uninfected partner, especially through correct and consistent condom use.
A similar testing program by Washington, D.C.-based Family and Medical Counseling Service Inc. has tested about 145 primarily heterosexual couples annually since 2008.
New research suggests that up to 68 percent of new HIV infections among gay men come from a main partner, not through casual sex, in part because main partners are less likely to use condoms. One study of HIV-discordant married couples in Africa estimated that testing together cut the transmission rate by more than half.
For more information, visit: www.testingtogether.org.
01.18.2012; Carla K. Johnson
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