There’s a black van in Philadelphia that lurks outside of schools and attempts to lure students in with free pizza.
But it doesn’t belong to a creepy pedophile. It belongs to a group called SPEAK OUT that’s working with the Philadelphia Health Department to test students for HIV. The effort was organized through Councilman Bobby Henon’s office to target students at Lincoln High School, but parents are complaining that middle school students from nearby Austin Meehan Middle School are also being tested without their consent, WPVI reports.
Henan promoted the “Pop-Up Teen Wellness Station” at Jeans’ Pizza on social media, where he said “40 constituents and students showed up.”
Those who attended included several middle school students, including a 13-year-old whose mother complained about the testing to city officials.
“In the case of this particular event, the goal was to provide services to a segment of the population that is seeing an increase in HIV infection rates,” Henon told The Daily Caller in a prepared statement. “Twenty-five percent of new HIV diagnoses in Philadelphia are among youth aged 13 to 24 years old. It is critical that we support and create opportunities for young people to take charge of their own health and wellness.”
Philadelphia Department of Public Health Director of Communication James Garrow told the news site a “small number of middle school students were tested for HIV” but did not specify an exact number.
Health officials explained that anyone who gives consent for HIV testing in Pennsylvania, regardless of age, can be tested, though Garrow denied SPEAK OUT targeted middle schoolers specifically.
“We, like all public health agencies, believe that everyone should know their HIV status, and will continue to make it easy for people to access these types of tests,” he wrote in an email to the Daily Caller. “It is regrettable that these students wandered into an HIV testing event targeted at high schoolers. This is absolutely not a case of bribing or enticing young children to submit to HIV testing in any type of coordinated fashion.”
Philadelphia school officials told KTRK the district had no involvement in the HIV testing and stressed that it was not conducted on school property.
Event notices state the testing services were provided by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, and funded by city taxpayers.
Last year, nearly 39,000 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with HIV, a disease transferred through sexual activity, sharing needles, child birth or other means that weakens the immune system and can lead to AIDS.
There’s no cure for the disease, but it can be controlled, according to the Center for Disease Control.
The CDC estimates 1.2 million people live with an HIV infection in the United States, including about 15 percent who are unaware they are infected.