HIV project strikes a chord with Philly youth

    A sign promotes HIV testing in a shop window.

    A sign promotes HIV testing in a shop window. (Elana Gordon/WHYY)

    A new effort to reach more young Philadelphia adults who might be at risk for HIV is experiencing some surprising success.


    Trying to find more effective ways to encourage young adults to know their HIV status, Philadelphia FIGHT and several other health groups, including the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, have turned to hip-hop for inspiration.

    With a $60,000 budget, they organized a free concert for people ages 13 to 24 Thursday evening, featuring the popular hip-hop artist Fabolous.

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    “When I saw that it was free, I said that’s for me,” said 22-year-old Darian Cargile, a self-described broke college student.

    The catch was that, to get in, Cargile had to be tested for HIV at one of several sites around the city this month, which was designated HIV Awareness Month.

    Cargile was fine with that. Apparently, so were a lot of other people. All 1,200 tickets for the concert have been claimed by people who went to be tested.

    “The response has been phenomenal,” said Mark Seaman, development director at Philadelphia FIGHT.

    Seaman says Philadelphia FIGHT typically tests only a few dozen young adults for HIV each month. He worries that too many people are unaware of their status.

    “It’s typically people who are unaware of their HIV status who are transmitting it to others,” said Seaman.

    That’s a problem, he says, because HIV infection rates in Philadelphia are five times the national average and twice that of New York City. Rates are especially high among young men of color.

    “There’re a lot of reasons that people are reluctant to come in and get a test, especially young people who may have never been tested before,” said Seaman. “We show them that there’s nothing to be afraid of. We like to say that HIV is nothing to be afraid of but you should be afraid of not knowing your status.”

    Another concert opportunity

    Groups like Philadelphia FIGHT also provide support services to those infected with HIV.

    Cargile, who got the very last ticket to Thursday’s show, says he’s glad to know that so many people his age are getting tested, making the concert a more meaningful experience for him.

    “The fact that everyone’s going for that cause, that’s bigger than the concert, actually,” Cargile said.

    Seaman, who’s already starting to think about next year’s concert lineup, says he and others got the idea from a project in Houston.

    In the meantime, those who didn’t get a ticket for Fabolous aren’t totally out of luck. They can still be tested and enter a raffle for tickets to the upcoming Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake concert in August.

    According to the Philadelphia health department, 19,157 people are living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia. The disease is transmitted through sexual fluids, blood-to-blood contact and breast milk.

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