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Winter 2014
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Testing 19143

"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 recalls.

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."

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