Irvine AIDS Organization Launches County-Wide "Take the Initiative. Take the Test." HIV Testing Campaign

Bea Arthur Gift to Help Fund Over 2,400 Tests in 2012


IRVINE, Calif., June 27, 2012 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In conjunction with National HIV Testing Day, AIDS Services Foundation Orange County (ASF) announced today a new county-wide campaign to test over 2,400 individuals for HIV and AIDS. The number would be a record for the agency which, on average, usually conducts 2,032 tests annually.

The testing campaign, entitled "Take the Initiative. Take the Test.," is the initial tactic in fulfilling the agency's vision of "the end of AIDS in Orange County." The campaign includes outreach to and testing in targeted communities at risk for contracting the virus as well as an appeal to ASF donors and the general public to fund the $65,000 necessary to complete the testing.

"The most important thing we as an agency can do to help an individual with HIV or AIDS is connect them with care. Once they are receiving treatment, they get healthier, become considerably less likely to transmit the virus, and, consequently, the community on the whole becomes healthier," said Philip Yaeger, ASF executive director and CEO. "Until that individual knows his or her status, there's no reason for them to seek treatment. That's why this testing campaign is so important for Orange County."

According to the most recent statistics released by the Orange County Healthcare Agency, there are nearly 6,700 people confirmed living with HIV disease in Orange County. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that twenty percent of those living with HIV don't know they are infected. That means that the estimated population living with HIV in Orange County could be more than 8,000. The groups that have seen the highest percentage increase in rate of infection over last two years are people aged 20-29 and Hispanics.

Martin Salas, ASF director of health education and prevention, posits, "The estimated 1,774 people in the county who are currently infected but do not yet know it are much more likely to engage in risky behavior and transmit the virus versus those who know their status. They are the ones we have to reach with this testing program if we want to stop the spread of HIV." He continued, "We are seeing many people developing AIDS before they even realize that they are HIV-infected." This means that people are living with the disease, potentially passing it along without knowing it, for years.

The agency will reach at risk populations where they congregate. Testing hours are already regularly scheduled at the Mexican Consulate in Santa Ana. Collegiate campuses often host health fairs at which ASF provides free HIV testing and counseling. Community fairs and events, such as the recent AIDS Walk Orange County and the upcoming National Latino AIDS Awareness Day health fair are also targeted to host testing. And teams of ASF's HIV Prevention Specialists are out in the public in force on the days surrounding National HIV Testing Day and World AIDS Day.

ASF's HIV testing program has historically been privately funded. In 2011, when state funding for HIV education and prevention programs fell short, it was decided that public funding would be sought for testing. For the second half of 2012, ASF will receive approximately $25,000 in funding from the County. However, that amount leaves a $65,000 shortfall in the testing budget. Just when those numbers were falling into place in the agency budget, the gift from Bea Arthur was received.

Arthur, who died in April 2009, was a longtime supporter of the agency. ASF Co-founders Al Roberts and Ken Jillson befriended Arthur many years ago and later approached her about doing a character voice-over for their Laguna Beach "Big Splash" backyard charity show. She eagerly accepted their invitation and became an ASF star volunteer for many years.

ASF was surprised in December of last year with the $25,000 legacy gift from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Famer. ASF learned of the gift from Arthur's son, Matt Saks. Saks hoped that his mother's gift to the agency could be used to get more people to donate to the cause. The timing and thought behind the gift matched perfectly with the agency's needs. It was decided that the gift from Arthur would seed the financial campaign necessary to raise the additional $65,000.

Said Yaeger, "'Taking the initiative' is active, positive and conveys empowerment and the opportunity to originate a solution. It's like the butterfly effect. The simple action of getting tested today and knowing your status could have immense consequences in your life and in the lives of your family and friends, community, nation and the world." Any test potentially could be the one that stops the spread of HIV.

In the coming weeks, ASF donors will receive a special appeal via conventional letter and/or email to ask them to join in supporting the campaign. It is hoped the general public will also see the importance of the testing campaign and take the initiative to not only give, but also to get tested.

Donations are accepted online at, by mail at 17982 Sky Park Circle, Ste J, Irvine, CA 92614 or by calling the agency at (949) 809-5700.
Free, confidential HIV testing is conducted at the same address Tuesday through Thursday from 3:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. No appointment is necessary. Pre- and post-test counseling are provided and test results are obtained in about twenty minutes.

ASF is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985 by a small group of dedicated volunteers. Annually, the agency assists more than 1,600 men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS. Among the services ASF provides are food, transportation, housing, emergency financial assistance, mental health counseling, HIV testing, and HIV prevention and education programs. To learn more about ASF go to

The AIDS Services Foundation Orange County logo is available at


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