Archibald, 29, wearing a red shirt and oversized hat, sits beneath a giant tent waiting to take a test that could change his life. He is eager, almost excited. A little less than two years ago, he was tested for HIV at a local health clinic. His test then was negative. He had meant to return for a follow up sooner, but the distance from his home to the facility was too far; the long waits, too inconveniencing; and the fear of the results – if positive – all too real. “The queues were just insane!” he says.
But today’s test is different. It’s happening at a local community mall – conveniently located in the center of town. A loudspeaker blares popular music as young people mill around laughing, talking, and visiting one of several colorful booths that house CDC experts and partners sharing information on HIV prevention, treatment, and testing. A state-of-the art mobile testing facility is also on site – available for anyone who wishes to get an HIV test.
It’s all part of CDC’s multi-tiered efforts to reach those at risk, get them tested and – if positive – immediately started on treatment. Employing a range of HIV testing options – including mobile tests and self-testing – the goal is to address, head on, real-life obstacles like stigma, long wait times and distance that keep too many from learning their status.
It’s Archibald’s turn. He approaches one of the testing kiosks in the mobile unit. He chooses the finger to be pierced with a needle and his blood is collected in a thin plastic tube. In less than 10 minutes, he has his results.
Soon after that, he is given a plain brown paper bag. Only he knows the contents. If he is HIV-negative, it will contain HIV prevention tools and information on how to stay HIV-free. If he is HIV-positive, it will contain antiretroviral medicines he can take immediately that will help him live a long, healthy life.
I am so thankful I got tested today,” he says with a satisfied smile. “It’s just so important.”