3 Atlantans featured in new HIV testing campaign

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HIV prevention advocates launched a new diverse, bilingual national HIV testing campaign on Monday in Atlanta that features everyday people from populations most at risk for the disease encouraging people to get tested.

Doing It, a campaign from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, highlights a diverse array of people – gay, bisexual, heterosexual, African-American, Latino, white, men, women and transgender people – and includes three people with Atlanta ties. The CDC unveiled Doing It on Monday during the 2015 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta.

Eugene McCray, director of CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said the new campaign takes aim at a sobering fact – 1 in 8 Americans who are infected with HIV don't know it.

“Undiagnosed HIV infections remains an important factor fueling the HIV epidemic,” McCray said. “Thirty percent of new HIV infections are attributed to people who don't know they are infected. Testing is the only way to ensure that more people living with HIV are aware of their status.”

The Doing It campaign was built after extensive research, honing the audience to populations most at risk for HIV, reviewing past campaigns and gathering input from more than 1,000 stakeholders across the country, according to Jessica Lacy, deputy for program in the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention.

“The focal point of the campaign is our print and broadcast videos that capture the diversity and energy that we sought to achieve,” Lacy said at Monday's unveiling.

Some two-dozen volunteers were selected from more than 100 people to take part in the campaign, which was created during photo shoots in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Doing It also got some celebrity assists, including one from Daniel Franzese, the “Mean Girls” actor who played HIV-positive bear Eddie on HBO's “Looking.” He led a panel discussion about the campaign on Monday during the conference.

The volunteers featured in Doing It include three people with Atlanta ties – Ben Nicoara (top photo), Brandon Dykes and Vanea Gordon.

Nicoara, who works for a research company, says he responded to informationhe spotted in an internal newsletter looking for volunteers. A few photos, somethoughts about the importance of getting tested for HIV and a phone interviewlater, he was on his way to a Doing It photo shoot in Washington, D.C.

“HIV testing is the best way to fight HIV. That's why I participated,” Nicoara said.

Nicoara said he hopes the diversity of the Doing It campaign will give it broad appeal.

“I think this campaign will be successful because of the wide variety of people they chose as models, especially a serodiscordant straight couple, transgender women, and women of color. But Latino and black men are also target demographics for this campaign, as they are showing alarmingly high HIV infection rates as of lately,” he said.

Brandon Dykes, who lived in Atlanta for several years before moving to Nashville in January, said taking part in the CDC campaign was a natural extension of his work in HIV advocacy.

“The main thing that attracted me to the campaign is that it sounded hip and young. I get tested so regularly and I want people to understand that regardless if they are having sex or not having sex, they should make it a routine thing so it's not something they push under the rug and forget about,” Dykes said.

Dykes said the diversity of the people included in Doing It will help the campaign reach a broader audience and put the CDC's HIV prevention efforts in front of often overlooked groups.

“They are picking people that are close to the demographic that individuals can identify with and people that they know and that they've seen in the community doing the actual work. It is a step in the right direction,” he said.

The CDC unveiled Doing It as it also lifted the curtain on an online tool that provides customized information on the HIV risk of certain behaviors and strategies to reduce that risk. The interactive HIV Risk Reduction Tool allows users to compare the risk for different sexual activities and gauge how prevention methods – including condoms and PrEP – impacts levels of protection.

CDC officials said the site is in beta testing and will see revisions and improvements based on feedback and its own findings.

“Both of these efforts are designed to help people take control of their health, make informed choices, and reduce their risk for getting and transmitting HIV,” Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention, said in a prepared statement.

“With more effective prevention options than ever before, it is essential that we provide accurate information. Now people can choose the best strategies for protecting themselves and their partners from HIV. The HIV Risk Reduction Tool provides everyone – regardless of HIV status – a one-stop resource for information to guide their decisions about reducing risk,” Mermin added.

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