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Q: I heard that Howard Brown Health Center has a program that encourages male couples and sexual partners to get tested together for HIV. Is that true?
A: Yes, you are correct! Getting an HIV test can be difficult, if not downright scary—and having a conversation with your partner(s) about HIV results can bring up a lot of other issues. Thanks to a new service developed by researchers from Emory University and funded by the MAC AIDS Fund, Howard Brown Health Center, and two clinics in Atlanta, can provide an opportunity to lessen those challenges among sexual partners.
I spoke with Sam Hoehnle, Project Coordinator of “Testing Together” at Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago. Mr. Hoehnle said that “Testing Together” provides an opportunity for gay and bisexual men in relationships to get tested and receive their results together (at the same time, in the same room), with a trained counselor present to discuss the results. Testing with your partner and receiving your results together is a great opportunity to start (or continue) a healthy conversation about HIV in your relationship, and allows you to talk openly about building a plan to address HIV (and other STI) risks. The service is designed to focus on the future, not on what each person has done in the past.
Different types of couples can also benefit from this intervention. In the United States most infections occur between men and their primary sex partner. You or your partner may be infected with HIV and not even know it. Testing Together gives an opportunity for you and your partner to discuss how HIV may impact your relationship.
If you are positive you can still use the service. If you meet the screening criteria, Testing Together can provide an opportunity for you to share your status with your partner, in a controlled setting, with a trained counselor who will help start a discussion with you and your partner to discuss the realities of HIV in your relationship.
Some people may be concerned about how this service will affect their relationship, especially if they have different results. While, there is no way to know what direction your relationship will take after finding out each other’s HIV test results, in Africa, where the service was started, most couples with different results stayed together. Every relationship is different. Knowing your partner’s status will start a conversation with honesty and trust.
The process of testing is relatively easy. You and your partner will be screened separately to see if you are eligible for testing. If you are eligible and agree to be tested together, then you will meet with a counselor to start a discussion about the testing process and how HIV impacts you in your specific relationship. The counselor will then provide the results for the test with you and your partner, at the same time and in the same room. Once you both know your status, the counselor will work with you both to determine the best way to minimize the risk of HIV in your relationship.
Only four clinics in the U.S. are offering this service for male couples. The two locations in Chicago are Howard Brown Health Center and the Broadway Youth Center (for people under 25 years of age).
Howard Brown offers the service during regular Walk-in Clinic hours and the Broadway Youth Center on Tuesday and Thursday from 5pm-8pm.
In Atlanta, services are offered at our partner sites AID Atlanta and Ric Crawford Clinic (formerly AID Gwinnett).
For more information about Testing Together you can go to www.testingtogether.org or check the program out on Facebook. You can also follow us on Twitter @TestingTogether.
TOMORROW - Howard Brown is hosting a community forum at their Sheridan location (4025 North Sheridan Road, Chicago) on Thursday, November 3rd - TOMORROW - from 6:30p - 8:00p.
This forum is an opportunity for the community to learn more about the service. A representative from Emory University and Howard Brown Health Center will be there to present on couples HIV counseling and testing. The forum will also feature a question and answer portion. And light refreshments!
Hope to see you there!