Moving to combat AIDS among substance abusers, the county has funded a $946,000 program that will bring the first mobile center for HIV/AIDS testing and counseling to the Valley.
The new program, approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors, begins July 1 and will send five mobile vans to substance abuse treatment centers throughout Los Angeles County.
"This will be the first time there will be mobile units providing HIV tests," said John Schunhoff, AIDS program director for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "The reason behind the program would be to make sure that testing is widely available to a significant group of persons who are at risk."
In the San Fernando Valley, the mobile testing van will be operated by the Valley Community Clinic, a private nonprofit medical counseling agency based in North Hollywood. Services will include free and anonymous testing, counseling, referrals to health services and education on how to keep from acquiring and spreading the deadly virus.
Diane Chamberlain, associate director of the Valley Community Clinic, said the advantage of the mobile unit will be to seek out at-risk or HIV-infected individuals at substance abuse treatment centers who may not normally have access to these services.
"It's a very difficult population to reach," Chamberlain said of substance abusers. "With a population that does not go out for help, you have to go where they are."
According to Schunhoff, the number of reported acquired immune deficiency syndrome cases among injection drug users has risen steadily in the county during the past five years. These include heroin, cocaine and other drug users. The human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS, can be spread by shared needles.
For heterosexual males who use injection drugs, the number of newly reported AIDS cases has tripled from 62 in 1987 to 186 in 1992. These cases now represent 9% of all newly reported AIDS cases in the county, compared to 3% in 1987. Among female injection drug users, the number of newly reported AIDS cases reported countywide has increased from 14 cases in 1987 to 54 in 1992, Schunhoff said.
The $946,289 in project start-up funding comes from the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and is allocated through the state to local government, Schunhoff said. The funds will be used to purchase and operate the mobile vans.