Vail Health Insights column: Red Ribbon Project provides free HIV testing in Eagle County
If you go …
What: Free HIV testing on World AIDS Day.
When and where: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, at Colorado Mountain College, 150 Miller Ranch Road, Edwards; or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2, at Doctors on Call, 142 Beaver Creek Place, Avon.
More information: Walk-ins are welcome. The confidential test requires only a finger prick, with results within 10 minutes. Call 970-827-5900, or visit http://www.redribbonproject.org.
In 2013, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that Americans ages 15 to 65 be screened for HIV once a year. It is estimated that more than 200,000 Americans are infected with HIV but don’t know it. Research shows that knowledge of HIV status is linked to lower risk for transmitting the virus. Early diagnosis is also linked to greater treatment and health outcomes.
In Eagle County, if you want to be tested for HIV, Red Ribbon Project provides quick, confidential testing free of charge.
In my work with Red Ribbon Project, I have had comments from community members such as, “There is no need for HIV testing in Eagle County.” Sometimes residents are confused and simply don’t understand why we even bother offering free HIV testing. In this great community we call home, also known as the “Happy Valley,” many believe there is no risk of being infected with HIV. Well, I think it is time that I clear up this misconception.
Red Ribbon Project tests between 125 and 175 residents each year, free of charge, and has done so since 2000. The people who come for the testing services represent all different walks of life. They do not come bearing weapons, nor are they necessarily smoking cigarettes or wearing transgender clothing. A few years back, a young woman came for testing because she was an injection drug user.
Yes, those people exist in Happy Valley. Red Ribbon Project was able to link her to services such as Narcotics Anonymous and Mind Springs Health. I still see her around town, and she is recovering from drug addiction.
Several years back, a young Hispanic girl came with her sister for testing. After being kidnapped by her boyfriend and then sold as a sex slave, this young girl escaped from New York City and traveled to live with her sister in Eagle County. They came to our free HIV testing session and shared this story with us. Our HIV tester was immediately in touch with the police department, and then later the FBI was contacted.
We have had both young and older adults in new relationships that come in together for testing. Many couples opt to be tested before committing fully to each other or entering into a marriage, simply for the peace of mind. Additionally, a young girl came in because family members had sexually abused her.
As you know, the stories we hear are all confidential. The reporting protocol we follow is taken very seriously. Our free HIV testing program is more than just free HIV testing. Red Ribbon Project has tested people positive for HIV. Not many, but there have been a few. Often, when people come to get tested, they show symptoms for other STIs and we are able to refer them to the affordable clinics in our valley, such as Mountain Family Health Center and the Eagle County Title X Family Planning Clinic.
Our tester provides meaningful conversations with each individual who comes for testing, ultimately providing them with skills to protect themselves in the future. More often than not, clients will take this opportunity to rethink behaviors that put them at risk for HIV and consider adopting strategies to reduce their risk.
Please consider a donation on Colorado Gives Day in support of Red Ribbon Project by visiting http://www.colorado gives.org/redribbonproject.
Denise Kipp is the executive director of the Red Ribbon Project.