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Even with HIV on the rise, Evanston won't offer free testing
Cook County might pick up testing services for Evanston

Thursday, January 10, 2008
Daily Nortwestern
by Veronica Crews

Officials at the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services say the city has no plans to reinstate free HIV testing, despite a recent national study showing more people are becoming infected with HIV annually than previously thought.

On July 1, 2007, Evanston canceled all its clinical services including its free HIV testing due to financial reasons, said Kristin Mawk, a communicable disease surveillance specialist for the department.

In December, The Wall Street Journal reported that as many as 60,000 people are infected with HIV each year, about 20,000 more than previously thought. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention then said the figures were high, but did not confirm the numbers.

The study is potentially groundbreaking because, until now, it was commonly believed that new infections were stabilizing in the U.S. The study casts doubt on those assumptions.

The CDC has not yet released its statistics to the public.

Despite the impending release of a study by the CDC, the Evanston Health Department will not reinstate the free HIV testing, Mawk said. Since the cut, some other Evanston clinics have seen an increase in clients.

"We've got a big surge of clients coming in," said Marcus Randle, a program coordinator at Carepoint, a not-for-profit clinic in south Evanston. "There's been sort of a backlash from the community that Evanston doesn't provide testing any longer."

Randle said the clinic tests about 75 people a month for HIV, which he estimates is a 30 percent increase from the months before July. Carepoint offers testing at its main location and also mobile testing, when employees travel to areas to conduct testing from a van.

Currently, the closest Cook County Department of Public Health clinic is in Rolling Meadows, a northwest suburb of Chicago about 20 miles away. The county health department also hopes to expand its clinical services to the Evanston area, said Kitty Loewy, director of communications.

Cook County hoped to pick those services up "at some point," Loewy said.

"We will most likely be providing them through a clinic in the Skokie Courthouse," she said.

Cutting testing services was "very unfortunate," said Eric Nelson, the executive director of Better Existence with HIV, an AIDS service organization. "(Residents) understand why the city made the decision, but they wish the city hadn't made the decision."

If testing is reinstated, Nelson said he hopes counseling would be a part of the initiative.

Students are unlikely to be impacted by the changes because they tend to use resources in Chicago, said Kathryn Guilfoyle, coordinator of sexual health education at NU Health Service.

"We've been talking about the possibility of doing the free and anonymous oral testing in-house … as opposed to collaborating with an outside resource that donates the test," Guilfoyle said.

Reach Veronica Crews at v-crews@northwestern.edu.



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