SEATTLE – A growing HIV testing program is rebelling against a culture of medical privacy by screening gay couples together.
While traditional HIV testing is done individually and in private, Testing Together allows men in relationships to learn their HIV status with their partner. Counselors develop a customized HIV prevention and care strategy catered to a couple’s specific circumstances so they can work together to prevent or treat the infection.
The program was developed by Dr. Patrick Sullivan and Dr. Rob Stephenson of Emory University based on research they conducted with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2009, they discovered one-third to two-thirds of new HIV infections came from main partners among gay couples.
“That was surprising,” Sullivan said. “It changed the way we thought about preventative services and intervention.”
Sullivan and Stephenson also discovered a significant number of men in longer-term relationships were unaware of their partner’s HIV status. In fact, many gay men in relationships believed they were less at risk for HIV and were therefore less likely to have been recently tested for HIV, Sullivan said.
In 2011, Testing Together began training HIV community-support organizations in Seattle and four other major cities on testing and counseling skills specifically for gay couples. They addressed how to cope with an HIV-positive status, maintaining safer behaviors between partners and helping couples navigate treatment when one or both partners is found to be HIV-positive.