Searle offers students free HIV swab tests

Maggie Li

A simple mouth swab available could tell you if you have HIV.

As of early this month, health administrators at Searle University Health Service have conducted 100 swab tests under a program to offer free and anonymous HIV tests to students.

The program is a collaboration between the Howard Brown Health Center, Northwestern’s Health Service and the LGBT Support Network.

“The main goal is having the service available for students, so it’s not a process that’s frightening,” said Jessica Sempek, a health administrator. “The testing is done in a familiar, safe environment.”

Searle has held test dates on the first and third Thursday of every month since last December. Tests will continue until June 1.

The program began in 2004 when Better Existence With HIV, an HIV/AIDS service provider for northern Cook County, started offering free, anonymous testing on campus.

For many the painless swabs are more appealing than the blood-draw test Searle normally offers.

Most students find the blood test a daunting and uncomfortable procedure, Sempek said. Blood tests must be made by appointment and cost $24.50.

Swabbing takes a few minutes, is free and does not require an appointment.

The swab test is a positive addition to university health care, some students said.

“It’s a good idea because more people would be tested if it was free and anonymous,” Weinberg freshman Kelechi Emuchay said. “A lot of people don’t know that they’re HIV-positive.”

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Support Network is especially encouraging people at high-risk, such as homosexual males, to take part in the program.

“I decided to get tested so the Howard Brown Center can continue to receive funding,” said Brian Holoyda, a Communication freshman. “They need a certain number of gay males to be tested.”

Other universities also provide HIV testing for students. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, free and anonymous HIV screening is always available by appointment and not on specifically set dates.

“It should absolutely be free on all campuses,” said David Semo Scharfman, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin. “But I think the mindset here is more open-minded. (They) acknowledge that promiscuous sex takes place, so they want to make sure that even if it happens, their students can be safe.”

The next test date at Searle is April 20.

“I’m hoping to continue this service next year,” Sempek said. “It’s been a great success.”

Reach Maggie Li at [email protected]