How Pittsburgh is at the forefront of HIV awareness, prevention, and care

From the Pittsburgh City Paper…

On World AIDS Day in 2015, AIDS Free Pittsburgh launched as a collective initiative of healthcare institutions and community-based organizations to support those living with HIV/AIDS, and those in high-risk communities. Following the example of San Francisco and New York, the organization set three goals: to increase access to PrEP, to routinize and destigmatize HIV testing, and to put in place a rapid linkage to care for those diagnosed.

One of the major successes of these efforts has been the increased information about and access to PrEP. Dr. Ken Ho, chair of the PrEP subcommittee of AIDS Free Pittsburgh, says, “We’ve developed multiple programs to make PrEP more accessible in Pittsburgh.” He goes on, “My hope is that our efforts will translate to a continued decline in HIV infections.” These efforts have included putting together PrEP toolkits for providers, hosting informational happy hours for pharmacists, and multi-pronged advertising and media campaigns to chip away at the stigma associated with HIV.

Read the full article.

AIDS Education Month: Philadelphia FIGHT looks to raise awareness, combat the virus

From kywnewsradio.radio.com

June is AIDS Education Month, and Philadelphia FIGHT has organized a number of events designed to prevent HIV and get folks tested. “People are not going in to get treatment. People still lack access to care,” said Tashina Okorie the director of community health training alliance for Philadelphia FIGHT. She says, while many believe that the AIDS epidemic is over, there is a lack of education and a plethora of stigma.

So the goal of AIDS Education Month, Okorie says, is to dispel myths and provide details on testing, prevention and access to health care. “Access to prep and access to just medication, so you can take care of your health,” she said.

On Tuesday, hundreds will attend the HIV Prevention and Education Summit at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which will feature dozens of workshops. “Around HIV prevention, around hepatitis C treatment, around behavioral health matters,” she explained. Later in the month there’s a community cookout and workshop on how to teach others about HIV.

Read the full article.

Black and African American LGBTQ Youth Report

From the Human Rights Campaign

In 2017, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation partnered with researchers at the University of Connecticut to conduct a groundbreaking survey of over 12,000 LGBTQ youth and capture their experiences in their families, schools, social circles and communities. More than 1,600 Black and African American LGBTQ youth responded to the survey.

This resource presents data collected from these youth, shedding light on their challenges and triumphs encountered while navigating multiple, intersecting identities. This report utilizes the full sample (any respondent who answered more than 10 percent of the survey) and provides more detail than is captured in the 2018 Youth Report.

Find out more.

AIDS Resource Alliance offers education, support, prevention services in State College

From centredaily.com

Though HIV is treatable today, the challenges of navigating the health care system can be stressful for anyone, let alone an individual living with a chronic illness. AIDS Resource Alliance utilizes a team of case managers who are trained to help their clients with insurance, housing, treatment and other issues that impact the lives of persons living with HIV. Twice-monthly support groups give clients a chance to share their experiences and struggles within a safe space where judgment and stigma are not allowed.

AIDS Resource Alliance also provides prevention services to the communities they serve. HIV and STI testing are available free of charge during office hours, as are condoms and other harm reduction materials. Each testing client is also provided with risk-reduction education, and general education services are available to local agencies and organizations who want their members to learn more about HIV and sexual health.

Much has changed since the earliest days of the epidemic, and the staff at AIDS Resource are preparing for the future with programming that addresses the new landscape of HIV in America. PrEP, the daily medication that can prevent HIV infection, is prescribed free in the Williamsport offices, as are the required testing and physical examinations necessary to continue the medication (the cost of the drug is the responsibility of the patient, but the AIDS Resource team can assist the client in applying for programs that assist in covering the cost of the drug.) As the population of people living with HIV enters their 60s and beyond, support group and other focused social activities enable clients to maintain positive social connections. Counseling services are provided free of charge to clients who request them.

Find out more.

Five ways to flip the script on HIV

From HIVplusmag.com

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 HIV Surveillance Report, African-Americans represent 41 percent of new HIV diagnoses yet comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population. In 2018, an article in Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities offered a five-point “action plan” for community leaders to address and reduce that disparity.

Be Immersive: Although the authors don’t go as far as suggesting all efforts must arise from black communities, they do note the need for work to be done in collaboration with those communities, and for answers to these challenges to be culturally relevant to African-Americans. (Pointing to an “unavailability of access to HIV healthcare and testing,” the researchers also call for “free or reduced-cost testing.”)

Be Nonjudgmental: The authors call for leaders and service providers to work to eliminate prejudices and unconscious biases that may interfere with HIV diagnoses and treatment. After all, they point out, some of the most-impacted populations are those who face stigma, including LGBTQ people, drug users, and those currently or formerly incarcerated. In particular, the researchers call out “cultural HIV/AIDS stigma” and “homo-negativity.”

Be Knowledgeable: The authors stress the importance of understanding “new approaches” to prevention and treatment—clearly referencing the recent consensus that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U, which shows that once an HIV-positive person in treatment reaches viral suppression they are no longer at risk of transmitting the virus to a partner), and explicitly mentioning the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a highly effective barrier to transmission.

Be an Advocate: The authors want community leaders to become more vocal in calling attention to the epidemic and its impact on the black community. But that’s just the beginning. The action plan notes that much larger social issues must also be addressed in order to “eradicate secondary factors such as incarceration rates, poverty, STDs, and other factors that increase the chances of contracting HIV.” Essentially, they are calling for intersectional activism.

Be Innovative: The plan says to be “proactive and create solutions that evolve with the times and the changing needs of the affected populations.” Certainly, that includes new technologies and treatments, but the authors also point to innovative programs such as Many Men, Many Voices (3MV), aimed at black men who have sex with men who may or may not identify as gay or bi, in which small groups talk about cultural, social, and religious norms; sexual relationship dynamics; and how racism and homophobia influence HIV risk behaviors.

Help combat HIV in Pennsylvania by volunteering your feedback to the Department of Health

The Pennsylvania Department of Health and the HIV Prevention and Care Project (HPCP) are looking for community members interested in HIV prevention, education, and treatment; We need people affected by HIV and AIDS to provide feedback regarding the state’s efforts in combating HIV/AIDS.

As part of the HIV Prevention and Care Plan, our goals include reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care, improving health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequalities.

As a community member effected by HIV, your feedback regarding the plan will help provide a road map in meeting the goals set out by the State Department of Health and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. Volunteering can involve reading a short paragraph and providing feedback or just completing a brief survey.

For more information, and to find out how to get involved, check out the most recent copy of the Pennsylvania HV Prevention and Care News Bulletin and click on the Join Our List button.

You can also contact Daniel Hinkson at dlh49@pitt.edu for more information about the HPCP, the Prevention and Care Plan, and how to volunteer.

Your voice can make a difference!

Thousands gather Downtown as Pittsburgh shows its Pride

From the Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Members of the LGBTQ community and supporters came out in full force Sunday for the EQT Equality March and Pride Fest in Downtown Pittsburgh — events that celebrate gay rights.

This year’s parade had an attendance of tens of thousands. At one point, an announcement over the loudspeaker said this year’s parade was larger than the city’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. It also was supported by a number of corporate sponsors and religious organizations.

Click here to go to the Post Gazette Video

“To see all these companies coming out and supporting us indicates there is more inclusiveness in the workplace,” said Craig Skvarka, 42, of Banksville. “There were a few [corporate sponsors] in years past. But there are more now.

The Pride march is an opportunity for people in the gay community to express their individuality. The streets were teeming with rainbow colors — representing the coming together of different sexual orientations — worn on capes, T-shirts and flags.

“It’s a way of expressing who we really are and allowing everyone to be comfortable in Untitled-3our own skin,” said Alayna Mott, 23, of Ambridge. “It means a lot to me because I am part of this community and I feel accepted by all around me.

See the video and read the article here.