"This is about social justice," says Assistant Professor of
Medicine (Research) Amy Nunn, ScD. “This is about geography and poverty and
where you live.'
Nunn is talking about her work in Southwest Philadelphia,
where a small army of religious leaders and city officials, along with
students, local residents, and other volunteers, have joined her in a crusade
to get residents of zip code 19143—an HIV "hot zone"—tested for the virus.
"Maps tell the story, and tell us where we ought to focus
our efforts," says Nunn. "Many people don’t know they live in a hot zone, and
may think they’re not at risk because they haven’t had a lot of partners. However,
that’s no longer a good criterion for assessing true risk for HIV."
Nunn’s work in the community began in 2010, when she took a
sobering look at maps that revealed the grim truth of HIV/AIDS in zip code
19143. About 2 percent of residents were living with the virus—an incidence
rate closer to that of Sierra Leone than the United States, and above
Philadelphia’s already-high (about five times the national average) citywide
incidence. Most alarming: residents of 19143 were dying of AIDS at nearly twice
the citywide rate.
"There was a clear unmet need for testing and treatment,"
Nunn, who splits her time between her work in Philadelphia
and research at Brown’s Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), recruited a powerful
community-based coalition, the core of which is a group of activist clergy
called Philly Faith in Action, to do something about it. Their Do One Thing
campaign, launched in June 2012, has now tested more than 3,000 people for HIV
and recently also began testing for hepatitis C. Screening happens in a mobile
testing unit, at clinics, and at a Walgreens that offers free testing every
Friday. The effort is supported by a public-awareness campaign that encompasses
billboards, door-to-door canvassing, social media, and a commitment by local
clergy to preach prevention from the pulpit.
"Do one thing," the ministers and imams say. "Get tested."