NEW YORK — In the fight against HIV and AIDS, testing and prevention services are critical.
CBS2’s Vanessa Murdock spoke with a nonprofit working to expand its outreach.
At GMHC in Midtown, “You are welcome, everyone is welcome.” The space is judgement-free, stigma-free and offers free and confidential testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
“The only way to know if you have HIV or any STI is to test,” said Omi Singh, director of the GMHC testing center.
Singh shares in 2019, 1,700 new HIV infections were reported in New York.
“The highest rates of transmission tend to be among men who have sex with men and in particular, Black and Hispanic men who have sex with men,” he said.
Lack of access to consistent medical care and safe housing plays a role in the disproportionate impact on men of color.
“We live in a nation where structural racism, poverty, lack of access to education leads to groups of people who become more prone to pandemics like HIV and COVID-19 and other illnesses,” said Jason Cianciotto, vice president of communications and policy at GMHC.
Cianciotto says this is why outreach to those most affected has been a critical component of GMHC’s work throughout its 40 years serving the community.
GMHC brings the show on the road to increase access to information and testing, partnering with colleges, universities and faith-based organizations.
Free testing will be coming to Central Park, too, on May 15 during AIDS Walk New York, and at the Latex Ball in June.
When test results come back negative, prevention options get discussed. Of course, there are condoms, but there is medication too – PrEP and PEP.
“PrEP is a medication that you can take before any sort of sexual encounter or other exposure to HIV that provides really, really strong protection against HIV transmission,” Singh explained.
PEP, short for Post Exposure Prophylaxis, is an emergency medication taken after exposure.
“Getting people access to these medications can happen on site. It’ll happen quickly,” Singh said.
To expand access to PrEP, GMHC partnered with Q Care+, which offers virtual consults and sexual health medication delivered to your door.
“When you look at sexual health, stigma is still the number one reason of new HIV infections,” said Quinton Rasberry, president and founder of Q Care+.
Rasberry says the company’s mission is to create a stigma-free space and knock down barriers.
“Meeting patients where they are, on the go. Patients might be between jobs, they might be at home, it might be a 15-minute break or 20-minute break at work. They can actually have their consults done with a licensed specialized provider,” he said.
QCare+ services are 100% free to patients. GMHC covers costs.
“If someone tests positive at our testing center, we literally walk them to their first medical appointment at a partner’s medical provider,” Cianciotto said.
They then help them get on a antviral medication within a week.
“A person can remain healthy, even with HIV, if they’re on that medication … I know that it’s scary,” Singh said.
Singh assures, GMHC is here to support you.
CBS2 News is a proud media sponsor of AIDS Walk New York. We hope you’ll join us on May 15 in Central Park to raise awareness, raise money and break the stigma of HIV/AIDS.