NOTE: Stark County HIV Testing Locations are listed at the bottom of this article. The history of HIV reads something like a conspiracy thriller, complete with a “patient zero” and rampant theories of government involvement. Although the virus has probably been carried by humans for nearly a hundred years, the first real reporting of it was only in 1981. Misinformation was everywhere surrounding the spread and effect of the virus, and the truth was hard to find. Even now, with AIDS awareness programs and information technology at an all-time high, there are a lot of misconceptions and the problem still exists. Because December 1 is World AIDS Day, and that kicks off AIDS Awareness Month, I thought it would be a good idea to sit down with Jeff Dreyer, the president of the Red Ribbon Connection, a man that has been HIV positive for almost a decade and one of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Jeff was diagnosed positive for HIV in July of 2002. The news was shocking at first, but he accepted his fate and immediately started learning as much as he could. He knew that if he had all the right information, he could help spread it to others. “I figured I had the ear of people that wouldn’t generally listen,” Jeff said. As a notable business figure in the local community, Jeff deals with a large number of people, many with voices themselves. He eventually started working more directly with the Red Ribbon Connection, where he sat on the board for two years before becoming president. He has helped it grow from a grassroots organization to a service organization that offers free HIV testing, a support network and a community outreach program. Through the help of a large community donation, the Red Ribbon Connection has been able to hire an executive director and reaches 2,500 students a year with programs they’ve held at schools throughout the area. That is going to end next year. “Due to a federal change,” Jeff explained, “we aren’t going to be able to do that anymore. For the last 17 years we’ve focused on prevention. Now they want us to focus on containment.” Exactly how they’re going to do that remains to be seen, but they’re working very hard on coming up with the best plan possible. For now though, Jeff wants to keep pushing the Red Ribbon Connection’s free HIV testing. “Ohio is an opt-in state,” he told me. “you have to tell your doctor you want an HIV test when they take your blood.” Although being an opt-in state guarantees our right to privacy, it brings with it a dangerous weight. If you opt not to have a test done, it is impossible to know you are spreading it. Fortunately, the Red Ribbon Connection offers a completely anonymous test that only takes 20 minutes. The test requires just a small prick on the end of a finger. It is relatively painless and 99.9 percent accurate. Once you receive your results you can simply walk out the door without anybody knowing your name or anything about you – even if you test positive. Positive testers are also given the option of getting a confirmatory test. It requires blood to be drawn and sent to a lab, with the results returning in less than a week and it is confidential. Good has come from all of the campaigning and educating organizations like the Red Ribbon Connection have done. HIV has been downgraded from a death sentence to a chronic medical condition. “That’s the best and worst thing that could have happened,” Jeff sighed. “It’s wonderful, because it’s no longer a death sentence. But that also means that it’s taken less seriously. People think that it’s not too bad, because you can just take a pill every day and it goes away. It’s not like that at all.” The two fastest growing infected demographics? African-American females and young people. All groups are still being affected, however, and people shouldn’t turn down testing because they don’t fit the demographic. Modern medicine has been able to cure the United States of pesky bugs like malaria and polio, we shrugged off SARS and deflected the bird flu like a poor pass, but we can’t prevent a problem that developed during the time of MTV and crack. The Red Ribbon Connection is a non-profit agency dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS through awareness, education, testing and condom distribution. The Testing Connection: providing free testing the second Tuesday of the month, 5:30-7:30. They are located at 221 5th Street NW in downtown Canton. Their phone number is 330-455-3835.
HIV: No Longer a Death Sentence?
WHERE TO GO:Alliance City Health Department—Funded by the Ohio Department of Health to provide HIV counseling, testing and referral. 537 E. Market Ave. Alliance 44601, 330-821-7373. Canton City Health Department—Funded by the Ohio Department of Health to provide HIV counseling, testing and referral. STD testing Tuesday and Friday, 8:00-10:30, HIV testing Wednesday 1:30-3:00 and the 2nd Thursday of the month, 4:00-6:45. 420 Market Ave. N, Canton 44702-330-489-3322. Carroll County Health Department—Providing HIV and STD testing, 330-627-4866. Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio — Funded by the Ohio Department of Health to provide anonymous or confidential HIV testing to both women and men. STD testing is also available. 2663 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton 44709, 330-456-7191. The Red Ribbon Connection (TRRC)— A non-profit agency dedicated to stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS through awareness, education, testing and condom distribution. The Testing Connection provides free testing the 2nd Tuesday of the month, 5:15-7:30. Donations to TRRC are tax deductible, and even small donations can be made through PayPal. Visit theredribbonconnection.org for more details.