Grassroots Efforts To Combat HIV Seek To Eliminate Racial And Economic Disparities

In some U.S. cities, the HIV infection rate is equivalent to rates in sub-Saharan African nations, and the virus disproportionately impacts low-income and minority communities. The Centers for Disease Control has experimented with different strategies to help combat HIV rates — including providing HIV tests at pharmacies in low-income areas and launching a “Let’s Stop HIV Together” campaign — but local advocacy groups are also taking matters into their own hands.

The Do One Thing, Change Everything campaign in Philadelphia, where nearly 20,000 people are infected with HIV, is knocking on doors in the poorest neighborhoods in the city to offer free HIV tests. Since the city’s rates of infection are concentrated among black residents in low-income neighborhoods who have limited access to health care services, the group aims to fill in the gaps with volunteers who will bring the health services to them:

“About 40 to 50 neighborhoods account for about half of the United States’ infections,” said Amy Nunn, founder of Philadelphia’s Do One Thing, Change Everything Campaign. “In Philadelphia, a few neighborhoods have very high rates of infection, and those few neighborhoods are driving the overwhelming share of infections.”

To change that, Nunn and her team enlisted volunteers to go to those neighborhoods, knock on doors, get people tested and, if HIV positive, get them free treatment.

While many volunteers get a “no thank you,” they have tested more than 160 people since the program started in July.

The door-to-door campaign also hopes to help eliminate the lingering anti-gay stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. “A lot of people, even in 2012, think this is a gay disease,” Nunn pointed out. “But that’s not the case, especially in Philadelphia.”


The CDC estimates that about 20 percent of the 1.1 million HIV-positive Americans don’t realize they are infected with the virus. HIV testing may be covered under Obamacare as soon as next year, which could help spur low-income Americans to get tested when cost is no longer an issue. Until then, initiatives like Nunn’s will attempt to keep chipping away at the HIV epidemic’s economic and racial divides.