National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) takes place this year on Wednesday, February 7. The day emphasizes the racial disparities that are still present in HIV/AIDS testing, prevention, and treatment.
This year’s NBHAAD theme is “Engage, Educate, Empower: Uniting to End HIV/AIDS in Black Communities.” The theme resonates for RHHD’s STI/HIV clinical team, who know that more support is necessary to make sure that Black residents can benefit from services like the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) program.
In 2021, 40% of all people living with HIV in the U.S were Black. But Black Americans only made up 14% of the population taking PrEP, a medication that protects people from HIV exposure. RHHD Public Health Nurse Supervisor Cassie Beamon sees a similar discrepancy in populations taking PrEP locally. In Richmond, we know that proximity to resources like clinics and pharmacies, as well as insurance status, are still shaped by histories of redlining and segregation.
Because PrEP medication trials, primary care counseling, and awareness raising have all historically focused on young gay white men, that demographic is overrepresented in United States PrEP data. And while that population is important to reach with this care, Cassie knows that some of the Black patients who would benefit from PrEP—including Black women—aren’t yet coming to receive services at RHHD: “I would definitely like to see more women, because a lot of people think it’s just men who contract HIV.” Cassie’s team addresses some of the challenges residents might face in accessing PrEP:
- Stigma and education: Patients who come to RHHD for PrEP work closely with our team’s nurses to plan for the PrEP program. Cassie’s seen patients hesitant to take a daily pill because someone might ask why they need it. Part of RHHD’s education work involves removing stigma around PrEP and HIV/STI services. “People should feel encouraged that they’re taking the steps to protect themselves and others, too,” Cassie says.
- Insurance and cost. Cassie’s team partners with Gilead, an organization that works with under- or uninsured people who need access to PrEP or HIV medications, to reduce this barrier for patients.
- Proximity to care: Right now, RHHD only offers PrEP at our 400 E. Cary St. location, which can be difficult for patients who need follow-up testing. Fortunately, RHHD partners with community-based organizations like Nationz Foundation, Minority Health Consortium, Health Brigade, and Planned Parenthood, some of whom even offer mobile testing! Plus, we work with local pharmacies Hope and Bremo to ensure that patients can access medication at convenient locations.
Cassie knows it can be challenging to adjust to a new medication and attend follow-up appointments. The fact that PrEP is an ongoing program, though, “should be part of the appeal. It shows that we’re invested in making sure that this medication is going well for you. We’re checking on things like lab work to make sure everything is going right—you have a partner the whole way.”
RHHD will continue to work with patients and community partners to expand HIV/STI services to our neighbors who need them most. If you want to learn more about available services or need help finding testing, prevention, or treatment options, call RHHD at 804-205-3501.