It may not look like it, but in a tiny office just off Fifth Avenue near downtown Rome, they’re saving lives every single day.
This is the office of the AIDS Resource Council and the provide the information and resources so people can learn about HIV and AIDS that will hopefully prevent them from contracting the disease.
The ARC also does HIV testing every day the office is open, with results available immediately. So that people who do have HIV or AIDS can know that and begin the process of learning to live a normal life with the disease, taking the proper medication and not spread the disease.
June 27 has been designated as National HIV Testing Day, so Frank Tant — the office manager and a board member at the ARC — said he expects to see more people come in to the office around this time. But he emphasized that the offices offers HIV testing every day of the week except Friday.
“First of all, people should know that anything that goes on in this office is completely confidential,” Tant said. “People can come in just to talk or as questions or to find out the resources we have available.”
If someone goes to the ARC for an HIV test, the first thing they’ll do is fill out a form called an HIV Risk Profile which Tant said has to be filled out by anyone who takes an HIV test in the state of Georgia.
After they fill out the confidential form, the test will be administered.
The test is a finger stick test. A small prick is made in the finger from which blood is drawn. That blood is then mixed with certain chemical solutions and the process takes one minute to complete. Results are given immediately.
“There’s no waiting around for the results,” Tant said. “We get the results in just 60 seconds and we go from there.”
Since January, Tant has administered 35 tests at the ARC and none have tested positive. But if someone’s test did come back positive, Tant would call the state’s HIV clinic to confirm the results.
And he stressed that the myths and misinformation about HIV make it difficult for people to even get tested or ask for information.
“The H in HIV doesn’t stand for Homosexual,” he said. “It stands for Human. This is a human disease. Anyone can get it. Women and men of all races and classes get it. We have clients who are doctors, lawyers and teachers. It affects the wealthy and poor alike. Even if you think you’re in a committed relationship there is always the possibility that your partner may bring the disease to you from outside the relationship. It’s always a good idea to get tested.”
Tant recommends getting tested every year around your birthday, just as you would renew your car tag each year.
“Early detection is important to fighting the disease,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid even taking the test because of what the result might be, but I promise you it’s better to know now and start living a healthier life.”
And he should know.
Frank Tant has been living with HIV for 30 years.
“I was 29 when I was diagnosed with HIV and doctors told me I wouldn’t live to see 35,” he said. “I’ll be 58 next month and I’m doing just great. Medically speaking, HIV treatment is not a huge deal anymore. medication and research have improved so much.”
He said most people living with HIV are taking one pill once a day and making sure to eat healthy foods, get plenty of rest and generally just take care of themselves.
More than one million people in the United States are living with HIV today, he said. But one in seven of them don’t know they have the disease. In 2016, Georgia had the highest rates of HIV diagnoses at 31 per 100,000 people, according to the Center for Disease Control.
In Floyd County, approximately 240 of every 100,000 people are living with diagnosed HIV.
“One of our clients and a friend of mine is a successful lawyer in the area,” Tant said. “He is living a perfectly normal life and was diagnosed with HIV years ago. What the medication does is that it makes the viral load undetectable. It suppresses it so much. Once upon a time people who had HIV and AIDS were dropping like flies. But that’s not the case now. You can live a perfectly normal, healthy life with this disease but the key is learning about it, getting tested and making sure you take the medication like you’re supposed to.”
One problem is, he added, that most people don’t care to find out anything about the disease until they have it or until a loved one has it. But educating yourself about it now is the best way to avoid contracting the disease later.
So when National HIV Testing Day rolls around on Wednesday, June 27, Frank Tant and volunteers at Rome’s AIDS Resource Council are happy to talk to anyone who walks in the door. And they’ll administer an HIV test in the most reassuring and confidential manner.
But their doors are open on other days too. The AIDS Resource Council is located at 260 North 5th Ave. in suite A of the Holt Building.
“We’re open Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m.,” he said. “We have free condoms for people who need them. You don’t need an appointment, just come on in.”
Frank Tant hopes more people come in to get tested and to get information. This is a passion for him.
“When I was first diagnosed with HIV I was scared and there weren’t a lot of options out there,” Tant said. “There were all the resources we have today. “I needed the AIDS Resource Council. So now I work here because once upon a time I was in the same position that a lot of people are in right now. I’m doing what someone did for me years ago. It gives me a purpose.”
“Get educated, get tested and get help,” he said. “That’s why we’re here.”