Couples Tested for HIV Together
AIDS Project Rhode Island recently began offering HIV tests for couples. The program, called Testing Together, allows couples to come in for testing together and get their HIV test results minutes later, while sitting side-by-side.
At most clinics, a person who asks if his or her partner can be there when learning the test result is denied because of patient confidentiality concerns. As part of Testing Together, individuals provide verbal consent that they are willing to go through the entire HIV testing process together, including receiving results at the same time and in the same room.
"Getting an HIV test can be difficult for some people -- and telling your partner the results can be even more difficult," explained AIDS Project RI Executive Director Thomas Bertrand. "Testing Together provides an opportunity for partners to be tested together, and get their test results together, with a trained counselor present to help talk about the results. Testing Together and receiving results together can start an ongoing healthy conversation between partners about HIV, their relationship and building a protection plan together."
AIDS Project RI staff members are trained on how to deliver test results, with particular emphasis on how to tell partners the most difficult news: one partner has the virus and the other doesn't. With these so-called "HIV discordant" couples, counselors have a great opportunity to reduce the spread of the virus by helping the couple learn ways to protect the uninfected partner, primarily through correct and consistent condom use and making sure people with HIV are getting appropriate medical care. Counselors also talk with couples about what to do next, including agreements they may want to make with each other about sex and health.
Testing is regularly available every Tuesday from 4-6 p.m. on a walk-in basis, as well as any day of the week from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on an appointment basis. When possible, couples are encouraged to make an appointment for testing, although it is not required. The program has won the support of physicians who have spent years treating people infected with HIV/AIDS.
"Male-male couples would have the biggest public health impact," said Dr. Josiah D. Rich, who is a Professor of Medicine and Community Health at Brown Medical School at the Miriam Hospital.
"If we could create a culture of both partners got tested together before getting into a sexual relationship, that would have a big impact," Rich said.
"I think this is a great project," said Dr. Kenneth Mayer, Director of HIV Prevention Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Visiting Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
According to Mayer, the concept was developed by Dr. Patrick Sullivan and colleagues at Emory University, based on their research that suggests that at least one third of new HIV infections among men having sex with men (MSM) occur in the context of couples.
"They have spent several years refining the counselor training so that people who have been used to counsel individuals about HIV testing, can now also advise couples," Mayer said. "It is not a panacea, but it is a great approach, since it recognizes that two men could live together and if they are not comfortable with being candid with each other, picking up an undiagnosed infection at a later stage could destabilize the relationship, and if both partners test negative, they can use the joint counseling to talk about how they can protect each other in the future."
Bertrand notes AIDS Project RI welcomes all couples, straight and gay, who may be in new or long-term relationships to consider coming in for testing.
"The testing is painless, free and anonymous, and all of the counselors are well-trained and very friendly," Bertrand said. "It's never been easier to find out your status. Knowing your HIV status can provide you with a great peace of mind. According to the national data, nearly one in five people who are infected with HIV don't know their status, and many people get infected from their primary partners."
AIDS Project RI is located at 404 Wickenden St., Providence, RI. To make an appointment call 401-207-8377 or email firstname.lastname@example.org