Sexually transmitted infections happen, but there are ways to reduce the spread, said Vandal Health Education Director Emily Tuschhoff.
Vandal Health Education, Generation Action and the LGBTQA Office will host events today which coincide with World AIDS Day.
Free HIV testing will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Idaho Commons Horizon Room, in addition to different tabling events on campus.
“Part of our hope is to break down some of the stigma, you know, offering free HIV testing in the commons. It is on the fourth floor so it’s still more private,” Tuschoff said. “People do get STIs and it’s not anything to be ashamed of, because there is quite a bit of negative stigma surrounding STIs, and especially HIV.”
Tuschhoff said the goal is to convey to students that is important to take control of their health and know their status.
“The only way to know for sure is to get tested, especially if you do have some of the bigger risk factors, which would be unprotected sex or injection drug use,” she said.
Julia Keleher, program coordinator for the LGBTQA Office, said the testing is no different than going to see a doctor.
“It’s a private medical matter. The nice thing is it’s free and we don’t charge insurance,” Keleher said. “They take some screening information and some basic information – your name and contact info – and the only people that see that are the individuals doing the testing at North Idaho AIDS Coalition.”
Keleher said that while they can’t make the testing anonymous, they make it as confidential as possible.
“It’s free and open,. No one is required to do the testing if they don’t want to. You can go up there and check it out and talk to the testers and see if it’s for you,” she said.
For students unable to make it to the testing, there are alternatives available.
Students can go to the student health clinic to get tested anytime, Tuschhoff said.
“They could make an appointment with their primary care provider even if that’s back home, and we do have a couple community clinics in the area – Inland Oasis and the CHAS clinic that could help with STI and HIV testing as well,” she said.
Generation Action, a student group through Planned Parenthood, will be hosting Free Condom Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the commons.
They will be handing out condoms or other barrier methods to prevent the spread of STIs, and will also have red ribbons to raise awareness for HIV and World AIDS Day, Tuschhoff said.
Keleher said there is also a risk assessment that helps students understand more about behaviors and how they may influence your risk of contracting an STI.
“I think World AIDS Day is vital to our information… as time goes on, our society kind of desensitized to it,” Keleher said. “This is a vital event for kind of reminding folks in our community that HIV and AIDS is still prevalent. It happens around here. It happens around the country and around the world.”
Involvement in general has increased as new ways are found to involve a broader spectrum of students, Tuschhoff said. While the goal isn’t necessarily having everyone get tested, making sure people know when and why they should get tested, and their particular risk level is important, she said.
“A lot of students hear HIV and say, ‘Oh that doesn’t apply to me,’” Tuschhoff said. “But I think that HIV is such a large stigma-type issue that I just encourage students to learn more, to get involved… to dig in and look at the history of the AIDS epidemic, or pandemic really, and understand who is at risk.”
Max Rothenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @m_rothenberg