Imagine throwing a party where the primary objective is to test the attendees for HIV.
A Decatur-based company does just that, with great success. Stand Inc. will now be able to continue its HIV testing and AIDS counseling thanks to a $300,000 federal grant from the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The non-profit discontinued its free HIV testing services for about four months after it failed to get a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, said Stand founder Charles Sperling. The new grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration/Center for Substance Abuse Prevention went into effect Oct. 1.
Stand tested 4,000 people last year in south DeKalb County by using the unique technique that Sperling called “recruiting opportunities that resemble house parties.” There is approximately a 3 percent positivity rate, he said.
“This grant targets the need to do testing among the MSM—men who have sex with men—population,” Sperling said. “Our staffers target one person who is willing to host the party, and we provide food and drinks, except alcohol.”
The hope, Sperling said, is that people in that environment will open up to the idea of taking an HIV test.
“It’s a non-threatening environment, with their peer group,” Sperling said. “It’s a place where that group can get together and talk about the dangers of high-risk activities that cause HIV.”
Part of Stand’s success in reaching at-risk individuals is the ability to go into the community instead of waiting for residents to come into an office, Sperling said. The company has a van that sets up in a park or a club, with the ability to do rapid testing. Results are complete in 20 minutes, Sperling said.
Rep. Hank Johnson, a strong supporter of funding for HIV prevention and awareness, recently stopped by the Stand office with a word of congratulations. Stand, with an office near Covington Highway, is in Johnson’s 4th Congressional District.
“Stand can point to many success stories, thanks to the excellent work they are doing in our community,” Johnson said. “This award is well deserved – Stand’s work is helping people live healthier, happier and more productive lives.”
Stand also offers HIV and AIDS counseling before and after testing. The agency also focuses on violence and substance abuse intervention and prevention services as well as comprehensive re-entry services for men released from prison.
“We pride ourselves on our ability to counsel,” Sperling said. “Peer counseling is very important with all of these issues. It’s important that someone can have a conversation with someone who is not going to judge you. Our staff is immersed in the HIV community, and some are HIV positive. They are not only able to talk about HIV and AIDS from a clinical point of view, but also on a personal level.”
Sperling said whether a person comes in for domestic violence, substance abuse or re-entry counseling, they are offered the free HIV test as well.
“It’s a scary thought to think in tough economic times like this, we would have to shut down,” Sperling said. “We have a great impact in south DeKalb and our numbers are certainly something to be highlighted. We want to reduce the fear of getting tested. AIDS and HIV is treated more like a chronic illness instead of a terminal disease.”