In an effort to combat increases in HIV infections, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation has teamed up with FLEX Spas, a national chain of bathhouses, to install vending machines in their Los Angeles location that will dispense Ora-Quick In-Home HIV Tests.
The tests uses an oral swab and can detect HIV-1 and HIV-2 antibodies within 20 minutes. The vending machines are accessed by a special code which clients at the spa can get from any FLEX employee.
“The new HIV self-test kit vending machines available at sex clubs in Los Angeles are a true breakthrough in access to HIV testing,” said Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner, professor of medicine and health in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, stating that the vending machines represent the successful partnership among researchers, community organizations and businesses.
FLEX is also conducting an anonymous optional survey for those using the vending machines to track program management. The aim of the survey is to ensure AHF materials are targeting certain ages, whether the users are first-time testers, and whether they are getting the test for themselves or someone else.
The foundation plans to measure the success of the vending machines by the number of tests distributed; date and time test is distributed; number of individuals with reactive tests that contact AHF's 24-hour linkage hotline; number of clients who successfully complete two doctor’s appointments with AHF providers; and the number of clients who show reduction in viral load. If successful, they will also place the machines in facilities in Atlanta and Phoenix.
“With the ease of buying a pack of gum, high-risk populations can now access free, in-home HIV testing kits from a vending machine and learn their status within minutes,” said Lori Mizuno, director of public health for AHF.
The vending machines help bring full circle the HIV and AIDS epidemic. During the height of the crisis, gay bathhouses, especially in San Francisco, were shut down in an effort to curtail the spread of infection.
In Los Angeles, some bathhouses remained open under new regulations that required the bathhouses to offer HIV testing and that patrons use condoms during any sexual encounters. In 2003, a study by the Los Angeles County Health Department showed over 10 percent of patrons did not use condoms during sexual encounters at the bathhouses.
AHF already provides free condoms at spa locations in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Atlanta, and Cleveland.
“FLEX Spas is excited to partner with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation on this groundbreaking effort,” said Todd J. Saporito, president/CEO of FLEX Spas, who noted that it was a, “unique opportunity to reach consumers, influencing health awareness and linkage to care.”