Virginia and Walgreens Team Up to Provide Free HIV Testing in the Commonwealth

January 20, 2015|11:10 a.m.| ASTHO Staff

The Virginia Department of Health (VDH) and Walgreens announced in June 2014 that they partnered to offer free and confidential rapid HIV testing throughout the commonwealth in Walgreens pharmacies. This unique collaboration aims to increase testing among at-risk populations and improve linkages to HIV care for patients identified through the program, with a goal of testing 5,000 people in its first year.

Approximately 1,000 new cases of HIV are diagnosed in Virginia each year, and roughly 25,000 people with HIV live in the commonwealth. Moreover, approximately 18 percent of people living with HIV in the United States don't know that they have it. By bringing free testing to the state-particularly to rural and underserved areas-VDH hoped to overcome concerns about test costs and confidentiality.

"In rural and underserved areas, people are often nervous about going to places for testing where they might see people they know, but your pharmacist already knows a great deal about your health and has to keep results confidential," says VDH Community HIV Testing Coordinator Heather Bronson.

VDH and Walgreens targeted areas with high levels of poverty or large minority populations. "We looked at census data and laid them on top of maps of Walgreens locations to pinpoint the stores that would best reach those at risk," says Bronson. The team also only selected sites that had private consultation rooms to conduct confidential testing. Based on these criteria, the collaboration team chose 13 stores to offer free HIV testing, and launched the testing at those sites in June.

From June to September 2014, the Virginia free HIV testing program administered 520 tests. Of those test recipients, 44 percent were between the ages of 18-29. Sixty-four percent were African American, Latino, or identified with more than one racial or ethnic group. Fifty-one percent were women, 47 percent were men, and one individual was transgender.

Of the 520 clients tested, two received positive test results, and one client initially received a positive test result but received a negative result upon confirmatory testing. Of these three clients, one was followed by a community-based organization, one by a disease intervention, and one initially refused assistance but later followed up with Virginia Division of Disease Prevention staff. The number of positive tests will likely rise as word of the project spreads and the program reaches more members of its target audience.

Due to the program's initial success, Walgreens plans to expand free HIV testing to additional locations in 2015.

Learn more about how the Virginia Department of Health and Walgreens are providing free HIV tests in the commonwealth, read the full story from ASTHO's "Have You Shared" story collection. View ASTHO's complete collection of stories at www.astho.org/stories.