By Cynthia Armour
City on a Hill Press Reporter
Home to cheap condoms, safe-sex education and HIV testing, the Student Health Outreach and Promotion (SHOP) program has been running for over a decade. It is one of the few totally student-run HIV testing programs in the country.
SHOP’s free and anonymous HIV testing serves between 160 and 200 students each quarter. The test is a completely painless oral swab called Orasure.
Meg Kobe, a health educator at SHOP, said that most of the students who come to SHOP to get tested for HIV are the “proactive and the ‘worried-well.’”
“Some students come back every six months,” Kobe said, because SHOP offers more than just a test. By offering preventative health services, SHOP’s role is to ensure students know and understand any risks they may be running. It’s a haven to talk about sexual health with a trained peer counselor.
“That’s half the battle right there, there’s so much misinformation out there,” Kobe said.
Currently, SHOP’s prerogative is to encourage health awareness.
“People leave knowing their HIV status and with an overall better mental health,” said Jess Inman-Godfrey, the HIV peer testing coordinator at SHOP.
In the last five years of testing, SHOP reports that only one student’s HIV test came back positive. According to Inman-Godfrey, this is due in part to the population SHOP treats.
“The people who come in to get tested are not those who are most at risk,” Inman-Godfrey said. She added that the campus in general is a “rather low-risk environment” compared to more urban settings, and that the on-campus health center clinic receives more “positives.”
Although reassuring, these numbers are also deceiving. HIV continues to impose a prevalent threat in the United States, with an estimated 1.1 million HIV-positive adults and adolescents, according to an article from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The more striking fact is that of these 1.1 million, approximately 1 in 5 (21 percent) are unaware that they are infected.
SHOP operates on the belief that it is important to continue to offer and encourage widespread HIV testing in order to reach all types. Francisco Mayer, a fourth-year student, has been tested twice since enrolling at UCSC.
“A few years ago, I was in a serious relationship,” Mayer said. “She had already been tested, so just to reciprocate, I did too. [The other time] I was nervous because one of the girls I slept with was using needles.”
There are also those who feel responsible enough to do without the tests, following the belief that in this day and age they are aware enough not to run the risk of infecting a partner with an incurable virus.
However, guidelines from the CDC recommend that any sexually active person aged 13 to 64 be tested at least once for HIV. Kobe also subscribes to this mantra: “Every sexually active young person needs to be proactive about their health.”