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HIV testing initiative uses social networks to target MSM in Kent County

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KCHD has been networking online and in the community to recruit new "Ambassadors" for its HIV testing initiative.

KCHD has been networking online and in the community to recruit new "Ambassadors" for its HIV testing initiative.

(Grand Rapids, MI) – The Kent County Health Department (KCHD) is seeking community members to recruit their peers to get tested for HIV through a new program. The Ambassador program, funded through the Michigan Department of Community Health, relies on social networks to boost HIV testing in men who have sex with men (MSM) in Kent County

“We are thrilled to offer this program, which targets groups of high-risk individuals who are disproportionately hit by the AIDS epidemic,” said Cathy Raevsky, Administrative Health Officer for KCHD. “By being Ambassadors, men have the power to influence their peers to know their HIV status. In this way, they hold the key to prevention, treatment, and support for people living with HIV in West Michigan.”

The program offers 100 percent confidential and free HIV testing at KCHD’s Personal Health Services Clinic, 700 Fuller Avenue. The way it works is that individuals from the MSM community sign up to be “Ambassadors.” For each at-risk peer in their social network who comes to the health department and gets tested, the Ambassador receives a reward. Those recruited also receive a $10 incentive at the time of testing, in the form of an iTunes card, local restaurant gift certificate, grocery or gas card, or salon gift card.

“The biggest influences in our lives tend not to be the people in white lab coats, but those with whom we socialize,” said Raevsky. “The Ambassador program reaches entire networks where testing is truly needed.”

Anyone interested in signing up to be an Ambassador may call (616) 632-7187 for an overview of the program. All testing is completely confidential. Ambassadors are assigned a unique number, which is printed on cards to hand out to peers. When peers are tested, the number on the card is linked to the Ambassador who may claim the incentive

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