Piedmont Access to Health Services wants to expand HIV testing in Danville this year to prevent more local AIDS cases.

Early detection of HIV and a subsequent medication regimen can prevent HIV infection from becoming full-blown AIDS. HIV can now be managed as a chronic disease like diabetes. “With the advancement and the technology and the testing, people don’t have to have AIDS anymore,” said Carol Napier, the PATHS Community HIV/AIDS Assistance Program services manager.

This year, PATHS became part of the Virginia Department of Health’s expanded testing program with a four-year renewable $30,000 annual grant. The department also supplies test kits to screen for HIV antibodies with a simple finger prick. Results take about 20 minutes. A reactive test would be confirmed with a blood test.

From June to December, PATHS would like to test 300 people for HIV using the rapid results test, Napier said. Eventually, the nonprofit would like to spread the program to its other community medical centers in the region. The tests and associated counseling are free because of the grant. “There’s no one in this area that does this,” Napier said about the rapid results testing, adding the area is highly underserved for screening even though early detection of HIV is the key to living a healthy normal life.

One in five people across the country are living with HIV and don’t know it. In Danville, fear or stigma prevent many people getting tested. From January to March, state health department surveillance data showed eight new cases of AIDS and two new cases of HIV in the Pittsylvania-Danville Health District. Recently, HIV patients coming to PATHS are women or people younger than 30. Many cases are found during a hospitalization or medical visit, Napier said. The number of HIV clients in the PATHS assistance program more than doubled from 60 in 2007 to 133 today, Napier said. PATHS staff continue to spread awareness of the need for getting tested and asking sexual partners if they’ve been tested. HIV is spread through sexual contact, bodily fluids, birth and intravenous drug use — not from touching, kissing, sharing bathrooms or using the same eating utensils.

Currently, there is no routine testing within primary care, but Terri Motley, PATHS chief compliance quality officer, believes health care is moving in that direction as prevention is emphasized in health reform. PATHS as operated its HIV/AIDS assistance program since 2004 with about $100,000 in funding annually from the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Part B program, Motley said. The local program helps people living with HIV or AIDS access medical care and medication, in addition to limited help for transportation and mental health services.

If you would like more information or would like PATHS to do on-site testing at your organization’s facility, call Napier at (434) 791-4795. PATHS staff will also give lectures to groups about HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

As published in the Danville Register & Bee, April 16, 2012