On Saturday night, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s mobile clinic was parked outside of Pegasus Nightclub off of North Main Avenue, providing free testing for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.
It was the second time in one week that the clinic on wheels offered tests outside of the popular club as part of Metro Health’s second annual I Know My Status campaign (#IknowmystatusSA), a monthlong outreach event with the goal of testing 4,000 people for STDs in Bexar County and normalizing routine testing and conversations about sexual health.
“There is still a huge stigma around HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, and we want to change that and make HIV/STD testing a normal part of a person’s [yearly health screenings],” said Sian Elmore, program manager with Metro Health. “You have to know your status, because the sooner you know, the sooner you can get help.”
Elmore, who spoke to the Rivard Report when the mobile clinic was parked outside of Main Plaza on Thursday, said the mobile health unit can be found around San Antonio year-round but will be seen more frequently throughout the city this month because April is STD Awareness Month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“The goal of testing 4,000 people in April is huge,” Elmore said. “It is three times the amount [of testing] we typically do each month.”
Bexar County ranked third for the most chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis cases in the state in 2017, and the number of people newly diagnosed with HIV has increased by more than 50 percent in the last decade, according to Metro Health. In San Antonio, 1 in 8 people with HIV don’t know they have the virus, Elmore said.
Last year, Metro Health’s I Know My Status campaign tested 4,178 people throughout San Antonio with the help of San Antonio City Council members and local prevention partners such as the Beat AIDS Coalition, Center for Health Care Services, San Antonio AIDS Foundation, and the University Health System, and UT Health San Antonio FFACTS Clinic, Elmore said.
For the second year, Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) challenged her Council peers to a friendly competition to see who could motivate the most residents to get tested for HIV and STDs.
“City Council’s participation last year is what helped take us over the 4,000-person goal line,” Elmore said.
The mobile clinic will be testing at the Milam Park for the annual Fiesta de Salud, a family-focused health event sponsored by Metro Health on April 17 and will need to test around 1,000 people per week to reach the testing goal, Elmore said. Metro Health has a list of locations, dates and times of testing sites on its website.
Jose Ramon, 54, told the Rivard Report that he was approached by Metro Health to test for STDs and HIV but declined the opportunity.
“I was tested recently – just this last year – [by Metro Health] at a clinic on the West Side,” Ramon said. “My cousin died from AIDS, so I don’t mess around or take no chances” by not being tested.
Ramon said he felt grateful when watching Metro Health employees work to convince people walking by the mobile health clinic to step inside and get a full screening for sexually transmitted diseases.
“If people don’t know you can get tested for free, they are probably not going to do it because they will think it’s expensive because it is a kind of health care. More people might get tested if they know they don’t have to pay.”
The testing, including all paperwork and providing blood and urine samples, takes around 15 minutes to complete, and participants can retrieve their test results after seven days by calling a number provided by Metro Health.
“We try to get information to people as quickly as we can so we can get them connected to the help they need right away,” Elmore said, noting several people learned of their HIV positive status during the testing campaign last year. “The sooner you know your status, the sooner we can help you get healthy again.”