October 5, 2010
On Tuesday, the District is launching a year-long free HIV testing project at the Penn Branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles. Participants who choose to undergo rapid HIV testing will receive a $15 discount for DMV services including license renewal.
D.C. officials chose the Penn Branch to boost screening of residents in wards 7 and 8, which have had rising HIV rates, said Angela Fulwood Wood, COO of Family and Medical Counseling Service (FMCS).
"We're normalizing people's thoughts of testing," said Wood, who expects her non-profit to test about 3,000 people, or 15 percent of customers at the branch, during the year. "You can do organ donation at the DMV. You can do voter registration at the DMV. If people don't want to do it, we can at least talk to them."
The program can reach residents who do not go to doctors regularly and are apprehensive about clinic visits and HIV tests, said A. Toni Young, executive director of Community Education Group (CEG).
The city Health Department is supplying HIV testing kits and informational materials; DMV is contributing office space; and Gilead Sciences provided FMCS with $250,000 to cover staffing and $15 money orders made out to District treasury for DMV services.
People testing HIV-positive will be provided on-site counseling, and other one-on-one services are available nearby at CEG's office.
Council member Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7) said the project sounds "awesome," but she wondered whether those testing could choose to learn their status with more privacy, after leaving the DMV. Wood acknowledged that a crowded public place could intimidate people worried about HIV/AIDS stigma.
"Everybody's not going to want to test at the DMV, but there will be people who say, 'I'm here, I'm waiting,'" Wood said. "They want to know their status."