Combating high rate of infections: Free HIV testing to be offered in Ardmore next week
Individuals in the Ardmore area will have the opportunity to receive a free HIV test next week — a part of the specialized services brought to the area by the new Diversity Family Health clinic.
The free testing will be done from 9 a.m. to noon on Sept. 10 at the Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma, located at 11 A Street Northwest. No reservations are required and testing only takes around 15 minutes.
Ryan Tigner, who helped establish the Diversity Family Health location in Ardmore in June, 2020, said there was a recognized need for free HIV testing in the area and, to his knowledge, this is the first time free HIV testing has been offered in Ardmore.
“In Oklahoma we still have a pretty high rate of new infections for HIV and knowing your status is the first way to combat the transmission of HIV,” Tigner said. “We can get you into treatment and bring you down to an undetectable status, which means the HIV antibodies no longer show up in your blood work.”
Cher Golding, HIV Community Liaison at ASP Cares Pharmacy, said the CDC recommends that anyone age 13 to 65 get an HIV test at least once in their lifetime, and depending on their risk levels, annually. “Taking care of your health and wellness, prevention saves thousands and thousands of dollars down the line,” Golding said.
HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system and interferes with the body’s ability to fight infections. If not treated, HIV can lead to AIDS. The virus can be transmitted through contact with infected blood, semen or vaginal fluids.
Oklahoma is known as a late testing state and many individuals don’t know their status, Golding said. It is common for individuals in Oklahoma to not know they have HIV until they end up in the ER, where the virus is already at a pretty advanced state.
“We’re trying to get ahead of that by doing these testing events so that people can know their status sooner before they get very ill and end up in an emergency situation,” Golding said. “It’s very expensive, the HIV medicine for the treatment. So, you have a lifetime of very high costs and that prevention really brings down those high costs.”
Those who choose to undergo testing at the Grace Center on Sept. 10, will be counseled on risk factors of HIV and will be educated on preventative measures against HIV. Individuals will also be asked to fill out paperwork that will be kept confidential.
Anyone who receives a positive diagnosis will immediately be able to start rapid HIV treatment within an hour of their diagnosis. Golding said physicians will work with patients regardless of whether or not they have insurance. Individuals may also be able to receive medication at a free or reduced cost through programs at Diversity Family Health.
Diversity Family Health also specializes in HIV prevention by offering pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which minimizes the chance of catching the virus for those who may be more at risk. More information on the preventative medication will be provided during free testing on Sept. 10.
“Anything that we can do to educate the public, provide this outreach and education, free testing, just helps on the preventative side and reduces those high costs down the line,” Golding said.
The Diversity Family Health clinic, located at 2530 South Commerce Street in Ardmore, offers primary care for all and specializes in transgender care, pediatric care for same-sex couples, HIV treatment and prevention and regular sexual health care. Individuals can make appointments by visiting www.diversityfamilyhealth.com.
For questions concerning the free HIV testing, call (580) 223-2027.