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Dread and Circuses

AIDS activists hope entertainment promotes HIV testing, because 1-in-3 is positively unaware

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National HIV Testing Day (June 27) in the Hill District will feature a deejay, food tents, balloons, face painting, a massage tent -- and free mammograms, blood pressure tests and of course HIV tests.

It's best to put an emphasis on fair at the health fair, notes Judy Sylvester, planning director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania AIDS Planning Coalition.

Why the three-ring effort to promote AIDS testing? "There's a lot of denial," she explains. "It's a very human condition not to recognize that we have at-risk behaviors" -- or even to realize what they are, she adds.

According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, 225,000 people in the U.S. are HIV-positive and don't know it. Another 675,000 realize they are infected. "So there's a huge push this year to go out and get people tested," Sylvester says.

While the test is non-invasive -- a mouth swab -- 10 percent of those tested shy even from seeing the results, for which they must return to the fair site in two weeks. So Sylvester's group is offering raffles at both occasions, exclusively for those tested and those who return.

The free Hill testing site (Central Outreach Center at Kirkpatrick Street and Centre Avenue, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.) is one of eight in the country on June 27.

"The epidemic is not only continuing," says Sylvester, "but the demographics are changing" -- from primarily homosexual to heterosexual, from male to female, from white to black, and from urban to rural. Half of new AIDS cases are people aged 13-25, according to the CDCP.

"It's very disturbing, because it means we're going to have to rethink a lot of things we're doing in the high schools," Sylvester says. "A lot of schools don't even discuss STDs, let alone HIV/AIDS."

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