D.C. brings HIV testing to the crowd at the DMV

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Starting Tuesday, getting tested for HIV in the District will be as easy as renewing a driver’s license.

In what District officials say is the first effort of its kind in the nation, the city will partner with a nonprofit group to offer free HIV testing at the Department of Motor of Vehicles office in Penn Branch in Southeast Washington. Participants will receive up to $15 to help defray their DMV costs.

The year-long project would be another way to reach residents in a city where a 2008 epidemiology update concluded that 3 percent of the population had HIV/AIDS. That is well above the 1 percent considered to be a general epidemic, advocates for prevention and city officials said.

“We wanted to have a broad audience and a captive audience. You’re captive at the DMV,” said Angela Fulwood Wood, chief operations officer of the Family and Medical Counseling Service, a Southeast nonprofit group that already tests about 5,000 District residents a year.

But the program takes two other unusual steps: It offers up to $15 to help offset the costs of DMV services and provides immediate counseling and medical attention. Based on traffic at the Penn Branch DMV office and human behavior in other free testing programs, organizers expect to test about 3,000 people annually, about 15 percent of the customers at the DMV location. Rapid oral test results will be available in 20 minutes.

The goal, however, goes beyond testing. “We’re normalizing people’s thoughts of testing,” Wood said. “You can do organ donation at the DMV. You can do voter registration at the DMV. If people don’t want to do it, we can at least talk to them.”

City officials chose the Penn Branch DMV, which is in Ward 7, to reach residents in wards 7 and 8, where the HIV infection rate has risen, Wood said.

“This is exactly the kind of innovation we need in this city,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large),who called Wood a “rock star” for coming up with the idea. “This is a model for the country in how we bring testing to people on a routine basis.”

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