A program was launched Wednesday by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health that encourages gay men to get regular HIV and STD testing by offering them coupons to local businesses in the city’s Castro District.

The six-month “Get a Test, Get a Discount” program runs from today through the end of October, according to public health officials.

Men who come into one of six participating community-based organizations for an HIV or STD test will receive a coupon to be redeemed at a neighborhood store, restaurant or coffee shop.

More than 30 businesses are participating, with some offering the discounts for all six months of the program and others accepting the coupons for only one of the months, said Thomas Knoble, one of the organizers of the campaign.

“When people get tested for HIV, they’re less likely to infect other people, so we wanted to increase testing,” Knoble said. “We don’t have a lot of funds these days and these businesses are being altruistic, so we thought ‘How do we bring these two energies together?’”

Issa Sweidan, managing partner of the Squat and Gobble restaurant in the Castro, said, “We get approached for auctions and vouchers all the time … But this program is the first to go beyond raising money and directly encourage our customers to be aware for the overall health of our community.”

Locations for where to get tested and a list of participating businesses will be posted online soon at www.sfhiv.org, Knoble said.

Men are encouraged to get tested at least once every six months or more, depending on their level of sexual activity, Knoble said.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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