The rate of city residents infected with HIV is almost three times the national average, but pharmacies could play in fighting further spread of the virus. Erin Billups has more.
The Walgreens Community Pharmacy that Larry Goldstein manages was one of five chosen in the Bronx and Manhattan by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to take part in a study on rapid HIV testing.
Drs. Jason Leider and Yvette Calderon found that community-based pharmacies could help in offering rapid HIV testing and diagnosis, which they say would aid in preventing the spread of the virus by getting people on medication sooner and help to avoid progression to full-blown AIDS.
"What we wanted to look at is, could we find patients earlier in the course of their disease? And that's what we found," Calderon said.
More than one million Americans are living with HIV. The Center for Disease Control estimates that one-fifth of those infected are unaware of their positive status.
"I'm not sure that we could get the entire group knowing it, but we could cut it in half if we had wide-scale, easy access to HIV testing," Leider said.
On average, about 30 people a week are tested for HIV at Goldstein's pharmacy alone. Those interested meet with a public health advocate in a private room.
"Confidentiality is a very big piece," Goldstein said.
Trained public health advocates ask a series of personal questions, administer the test, talk about HIV and AIDS prevention and 20 minutes later, those tested have their results.
"We're able to perform a service that is really quick and easy," Goldstein said.
Of the 2,030 tested within a 10 month period, six tested positive, five of whom chose to immediately go with a public health professional to an HIV clinic for medical care. One-third of those tested were uninsured.
"It really was a way of finding a different part of the community that was not accessing health care, but yet, we brought testing to them," Calderon said.
Latinos and African Americans have the highest rates of infection, due largely in part to the stigma still attached to the disease, which also keeps many from getting tested.
"Waiting until you actually have the manifestations of AIDS is waiting way too long," Leider said.
They're now working to get state approval for HIV testing in pharmacies.