Pittsburgh Health Association holds free STI testing at CMU

Last Friday, free sexually transmitted infection (STI) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) testing was held in Rangos Ballroom for Carnegie Mellon University students. The event came days after World AIDS Day, which was last Tuesday, Dec. 1, adding to many events being held around the world to bolster the fight against AIDS.

As stated on the event’s website, the many events surrounding World AIDS Day seek to “unite people in the fight against HIV, commemorate those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS, educate, [and] reduce stigma around HIV/AIDS.” Friday’s event, hosted by the Pittsburgh Health Association, included rapid testing for HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia.

Statistically, it has been proven that one in six people in the United States go day-to-day, unaware that they are infected. If left untreated, HIV can lead to AIDS — acquired immunodeficiency syndrome — and very serious health defects and other life-limiting conditions. After 10 to 15 years, HIV will have already severely damaged the immune system. Many may subscribe to the mentality of “that could never happen to me,” but nothing is known for sure until tests confirm, and that is the message this event was seeking to spread.
“Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get tested” said Jade Schiffer, a sophomore decision science major and peer health advocate.

Apart from free HIV and STI testing at the event, there were also tables set up outside of Rangos for the already established “Free Condom Friday.” Julian McClain, a representative for the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, was also present to provide information about his organization’s contribution in the fight to minimize the spread of HIV. The organization has taken the initiative to reach out to high schools and colleges to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. “Once we start outreaching to 25 or 26 year olds, it’s already too late,” said McClain.

Also available was literature providing information about pre-exposure prophalyxis, or “PrEP.” PrEP is a small blue pill that a person can take every day that prevents them from getting HIV 99 percent of the time. With the additional use of condoms, as usual, this pill is extremely helpful for HIV prevention with regular sexual activity or, if one has an HIV-positive partner.

In addition to the HIV testing that was being conducted in Rangos, “Why not get some information about a blue pill that could protect you for the rest of your life?” McClain said.
In honor of World AIDS Day, this Thursday, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force will be hosting a “PrEP Rally” at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater 7:30–9:30 p.m. This event serves as an official information session for PrEP. It will include talks from HIV specialists and other community members for anyone interested in the new PrEP pill. Other events include a drag queen cheer squad and a vogue dance showcase. The Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force is one organization that is taking steps in the fight against AIDS.

As for recommendations for ways students at Carnegie Mellon can prevent the spread of HIV, Peer Health Advocates has several recommendations: Early detection is better, so be sure to be tested as necessary. Make informed decisions about sexual activity and medical treatment. The tests that were performed at this event can also be conducted at University Health Services on campus. Tests are free of charge with university health insurance. A rapid HIV test, which is simply taken with an oral swab, only costs students without university insurance $20.