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Van to provide mobile HIV, STD testing in North Country

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A new mobile testing unit for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases will offer confidential services for residents of Jefferson, Oswego and St. Lawrence counties. The Syracuse-based group AIDS Community Resources unveiled the van Tuesday at a news conference at the Thompson Park zoo in Watertown. Joanna Richards has the story.

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Joanna Richards
Watertown Correspondent

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Michael Crinnin is AIDS Community Resources' executive director. He says that as Jefferson County's population has grown, so has its reputation for harboring meth labs and other drug production, sale and use. That's why AIDS Community Resources wanted to bring its latest mobile unit up north.

The group already has mobile testing vans in Utica and Syracuse.

Crinnin says the group targets users of intravenous and other drugs, because users are especially vulnerable to risky sexual behavior. And, he says, that population tends to avoid going to government offices where HIV and sexually transmitted disease testing might be available.

"So we're very successful in Syracuse and Utica for example at the big food pantries," Crinnin said. "The food pantries, but also the soup kitchens. People get used to seeing you, they're coming to get their meals, they're coming to get their food, coming to get their clothes, depending on where these pantries are, and they get used to us. They ask the people who are running it, 'Look, what's this? Who are these people out there?' And, you know, we come in and introduce ourselves."

The van, designed for camping, has a small bathroom that allows clients to give urine samples for testing. The urine test checks for sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV tests can be done in 10 minutes using a blood sample taken through a simple finger prick. A DVD player means educational videos can also be shown.

The van isn't obvious. A small sign on the door says Safety First Outreach Mobile Unit, but it doesn't scream 'HIV' and it's not institutional-looking.

Drug users won't be the only population to benefit from confidential, mobile testing services. Other organizations are welcome to contact AIDS Community Resources to provide testing to their populations, too. Crinnin says one college in the area has already requested the van.

"Last year JCC asked us and of course we didn't have anything at the time," Crinnin said. "So school just started and we'll let them know now that we do have the capacity to do this."

The van will split its time between AIDS Community Resources' Canton and Watertown offices. Organization staff and the group's clients are putting their heads together to determine some good locations for the van to begin its work.

The USDA Rural Development office provided a $24,500 grant and a 10-year, $40,000 loan for the van. Crinnin says he's grateful:

"This was news to us, that we could do this through USDA. Ah, and it's really encouraging that the federal government is committed enough to rural health. This is kind of extraordinary, actually. To do this kind of health outreach is kind of extraordinary. And I give them lots of credit for taking on an issue that is difficult, you know."

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