DALLAS — On average, Dallas County reports more than 800 new HIV infections per year, the second highest average in Texas, behind only Harris County. Resource Center in Dallas wants to ensure everyone has access to HIV testing and is now taking testing on the road.
Resource Center’s new “SexyHealth” mobile unit is a customized box truck with bright blue, purple and green lettering on the outside which will surely turn heads as it drives through the streets of Dallas. Inside the truck are two exam rooms, where staff will provide free and confidential HIV, syphilis, and STI testing. The mobile unit coordinators will also provide linkage to treatment and care. Safer sex tools such as condoms, lubricants, and PrEP will be available as well.
"I often think, you know, with all the resources that we have available to us in the fight against HIV, why are we still having such high numbers of HIV infection rates throughout Dallas County? So many Black and Brown folks are testing positive for HIV, and so we thought about how can we pack what we do up and make it more accessible,” said MPowerment director Jalenzski Brown. "One of the common challenges that we hear about people accessing HIV testing is transportation issues. Getting to a space that they can actually access the testing, but then also getting to a space that doesn't feel like a clinic or they're going to be judged or stigmatized for accessing the services."
Before the COVID pandemic hit, Resource Center was looking at innovative ways to bring services directly to the people. That’s where the idea for the SexyHealth mobile unit came from. Where did the name come from? That should be a no brainer, says Brown.
"Obviously it’s sexual health. It is a play on sexual health but also having sexy health. So when you are doing, you know, those activities, it's sexy. Your health is sexy. It's all a part of your sexiness. And so we think whether you're HIV negative or HIV positive, you can access the care and services that are needed to keep your health sexy,” Brown said. "So HIV negative, our goal is to keep you HIV negative. You're HIV positive, our goal is to keep you connected to other supportive services and live in a healthy lifestyle, even as an HIV positive individual.”
Dallas is one of the hardest hit metropolitan areas in the United States for new infections, and this mobile testing unit will help men and women know their status and remove the stigma surrounding HIV, something Timo Cervantez is very passionate about. Cervantez was hired to be a mobile unit coordinator, driving the SexyHealth unit around and administering the testing.
“This my opportunity to get out there, to be the face of the Resource Center, but also to have that connection with people to show them, ‘hey, erase the stigma,’” Cervantez said. “I’m a member of the community myself as a gay man, a veteran. I thought it was important to give back and to do our part. Also, being very forward with my status, I'm HIV positive. So living with HIV for 20 plus years. That's important to me to give back."
Providers will be able to test four to six people per hour, giving on the spot results via a rapid blood test. If a person tests positive, they will be referred to a primary care physician.
"If they have insurance, we do have a primary care at Resource Center. We have a physician that is available pretty much all day, and he can set up an appointment right away,” said Prevention Service Director JP Cano. "If they don't have insurance, we also have Ryan White funding, so there is help for those that don't have insurance through that. They will have to go through an eligibility process, and then they will see the same physician that they insured will see.”
With the resources provided through the SexyHealth mobile unit, the center aims to help deliver human connection with peace of mind.
“There is treatment for HIV to actually live a full, healthy life. And I'm living proof of that,” Cervantez said." I mean, if nothing else, that's my voice out there and say ‘hey, look at me, it's 20 plus years, almost 21 years and I'm doing amazing and I've had no complications.’ Luckily, there's advancement in treatment and education. So to overcome that stigma, we're overdue, we're long overdue.”
The SexyHealth mobile unit will set up at various locations throughout the North Texas area and will be available for community events. To learn more, visit sexyhealth.org or myresourcenter.org/sexyhealth.
"LGBTQ individuals, particularly those who are Black and LatinX, face discrimination and stigma in seeking culturally competent health care. Also, many in Dallas do not have access to transportation. This state-of-the-art SexyHealth mobile van brings compassionate and skilled care into underserved communities, with the goal of improving health,” said Resource Center CEO Cece Cox.
The mobile testing unit’s first event will be North Texas Pride Festival in late September.