In support of National HIV Testing Day on June 27, Walgreens, the nation’s largest drugstore chain, and Greater Than AIDS—a coalition of about 200 public- and private sector partners united in response to the domestic AIDS epidemic—are teaming up with health departments and local AIDS service organizations around the country to encourage people to take advantage of free HIV testing.
Free testing will be available June 26-28 at 256 Walgreens in 146 cities covering 33 states, a substantial increase over last year’s numbers.
“We have doubled the number of markets participating this year. It’s a testament to the relationships with the local organizations and all the work we’ve done with Greater Than AIDS over the past year,” says Walgreens spokeswoman Markeisha Marshall.
Of the more than 1.1 million PLWHA in the U.S., an estimated 1 in 6 are unaware of their condition, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
One-third of those who are positive are diagnosed so late in the course of their infection that they develop AIDS within one year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages everyone to know his or her status.
“For us it’s important to support what the CDC recommends. They’re recommending that everybody be tested and especially those who are at higher risk, which can include the gay community, women who are pregnant and populations that are heavily affected by HIV/AIDS, like the African American community,” says Marshall.
The Black Treatment Advocates Network, AIDS United and other organizations are mobilizing to recruit individuals in the most affected communities to take advantage of the opportunity to learn their HIV status.
“We’re very happy that Walgreens is partnering with Black Treatment Advocates Networks around the country to make sure that these testing initiatives reach the people who need to be reached the most,” says Phill Wilson, president and CEO of The Black AIDS Institute.
“Greater Than AIDS is about communities working together to achieve a greater goal.
These testing events are powerful examples of what can be achieved when the public and private sectors come together in response to HIV/AIDS,” says Tina Hoff, senior vice president and director of health communication and media partnerships at Kaiser Family Foundation, a founding partner of Greater Than AIDS.
“Not only will thousands have access to free testing in a familiar and trusted location in their neighborhoods, but the very act of offering the tests in Walgreens helps to normalize HIV testing as a part of routine health care.”
“Since the beginning of the epidemic, Walgreens has served as a trusted resource to help people know their status and manage their condition,” says Glen Pietrandoni, senior director of virology, specialty products and services at Walgreens.
In addition to its traditional outlets, the company runs more than 700 HIV specialized pharmacies staffed by more than 2,000 HIV-trained pharmacists who offer more in-depth care and support to PLWHA, including help with finding financial assistance to cover the cost of HIV medications.
“We were proud to collaborate with The Black AIDS Institute and the Kaiser Family Foundation four years ago to help develop the Greater Than AIDS campaign, which is our primary testing and awareness platform for HIV at Walgreens,” says Pietrandoni.
“Our work with The Black AIDS Institute, Kaiser Family Foundation and Greater Than AIDS increases community access to testing and education, which we know is critical to being a part of the solution to end AIDS.”
“Walgreens certainly walks the talk when it comes to HIV/AIDS,” says Wilson.
“From establishing more than 700 HIV-focused pharmacies to aggressively participating in HIV testing initiatives to energetically supporting Greater Than AIDS, Walgreens’ commitment to fighting HIV is heroic. People living with HIV often go to Walgreens before they see the doctor.”
BioLytical Laboratories has donated 10,000 one minute, finger-prick test kits to support the effort at select testing sites.
Other locations will offer rapid results using salivaor blood-based HIV testing technologies.
Free HIV tests will be available on June 26 and 27 from 3 to 7 p.m. and on June 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; times may vary in some markets.
The test results will be available after one to 20 minutes, depending on the test used. Local health organization partners will also be on hand to help those who want a result double-checked or to learn more about their status.
For more information on participating locations and testing hours, visit greaterthan.org/walgreens.
April Eugene is a Philadelphia- based writer.