Getting a blood test is never a wholly pleasant experience. Add to it the specter of early death, curtailed sexual behavior and thousands of dollars in medical bills, and it's no wonder AIDS prevention organizations must struggle to convince people just to be tested.
That said -- why would someone visit an AIDS testing organization rather than his or her doctor? There are plenty of reasons.
One major reason is money. People with limited means, or no health insurance, avoid unnecessary trips to the doctor. A doctor's office might charge several hundred dollars in lab fees for a blood test that an AIDS organization will provide free of charge. And a blood test that doesn't involve someone's regular physician may also help the patient sidestep insurance companies' pre-existing condition exclusions, which can act to keep the insurance company from paying for any medical expenses related to the disease for as many as five years.
Another reason is shame. Often, AIDS is related to sexuality and sexual practices. Someone who has been unfaithful may not want to let the family physician in on the secret. Unfortunately, it's precisely this sort of secret keeping that spreads HIV within relationships [source: Howard Brown Health Center].
Other people may be grappling with issues of sexuality that they are not ready to confess to spouses or parents. Still others wrestle with drug use, and fear that the illegality of their addiction would open them to the risk of incarceration if they were tested at a large medical establishment. The anonymity of an AIDS testing organization can be a life saver -- not just for these people, but for their potential partners.
Precisely because of all the feelings that surround an HIV diagnosis, patients need a great deal of support. On the next page, we'll look at the organizations that can provide that support.