This February marks the 25th anniversary of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (#NBHAAD), first observed in 1999. This observance is a day to acknowledge how HIV disproportionately affects Black people and raise awareness about the importance of increasing access to HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, although Black Americans represent 13% of the total U.S. population, they accounted for 42.1% of HIV infection cases in 2019. Black men have eight times the AIDS rate and are six times more likely to die from HIV infection compared to white males. Black women have 15 times the AIDS rate and are 15 times more likely to die from HIV than white women.
A 2021 presentation by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Ending the HIV Epidemic in Missouri, noted HIV disease impacts the state’s two major metropolitan areas the most, with St. Louis having an infection rate of 25.3 per 100,000 people and Kansas City with a rate of 17.6 per 100,000. HIV cases among Black Missourians are 8.3 times higher than among white Missourians. Males are diagnosed with HIV at a rate 4.6 times higher than females, and the majority of new diagnoses continue to be among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Distrust in the health care system may affect whether Black people seek HIV prevention or engage in HIV treatment and care. To address this, the 2024 theme of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is Engage, Educate, Empower: Uniting to End HIV/AIDS in Black Communities.
It’s essential to involve the people most impacted by a problem in the search for its solution. Engagement that involves the Black community in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment efforts includes utilizing social media toolkits and enlisting community partners such as influencers and trusted local leaders to educate and build awareness.
One example of a community organization actively involved in promoting HIV testing and destigmatization around HIV/AIDS is BlaqOut, a Kansas City, Missouri, nonprofit launched in 2017 by D. Rashaan Gilmore, who saw the need to be a voice in the decision-making process while working for a federally qualified health center. “The people who are making decisions about our lives and health care don’t look like us. They don’t understand us. And they don’t understand our culture and how that impacts how we approach healthcare, medical mistrust, and that sort of thing,” Gilmore said in a 2021 Healthline article.
BlaqOut serves the Black LGBTQ+ community by providing free-cost services, including confidential home testing kits, virtual provider visits, at-home or in-person lab testing, home delivery of medications, health insurance navigation, and transportation assistance. The organization summarizes its mission as “Our Lives. Our Health. Our Way.”
Improving HIV/AIDS education among black youth and adults is vital, including encouraging preventive care and practices, understanding PrEP and PEP medications, and disproving myths that contribute to stigma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more tools than ever are available to prevent HIV, including medications that can be administered both before and after exposure to HIV.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is for people who don’t already have HIV but are at risk of getting it. PrEP can reduce the chances of getting HIV from sexual contact or injection drug use and, when taken as prescribed, is highly effective at preventing HIV. Per the CDC, there are three medications currently approved for use as PrEP.
- Truvada®, taken as a pill, is for people at risk through sex or injection drug use.
- Descovy®, taken as a pill, is for people at risk through sex. Descovy is not for people assigned female at birth who are at risk for HIV through receptive vaginal sex.
- Apretude®, the only shot approved for use as PrEP, is for people at risk through sex.
Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is for people who have possibly been exposed to HIV. PEP is for emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours of possible exposure. Talk to your primary care provider or an emergency room or urgent care doctor right away if you’ve been exposed to HIV during sex, if you’ve been sexually assaulted, or if you’ve shared needles or syringes. If taken within 72 hours after possible exposure, PEP is highly effective in preventing HIV.
BlaqOut’s objectives are to increase the utilization of PrEP and PEP in the KC area, offering free lab and medication access and provider visits with both in-person and virtual (telePrEP) options. The organization has recently expanded its partnership with Q Care + to increase the accessibility of PrEP to those who don’t want to ask their doctor for PrEP, whose doctors don’t prescribe PrEP, who live a far distance from a PrEP provider, or who wants discrete home delivery of PrEP.
What if you are unsure of your HIV status? HIV home self-tests are available that give you results within 20 minutes. Order a free self-test from TakeMeHome. If you live in the U.S., are 17 years of age or older, and have not ordered from TakeMeHome in the past 90 days, you are eligible to request one or two HIV self-tests. HIV self-tests are usually not recommended for people on PrEP due to their lower sensitivity in detecting recent HIV infection.
Health Care Professional Education
It’s also critical that health care professionals receive education on evidence-based, patient-centered practices to improve patients’ lives and increase engagement and retention in HIV care.
The University of Missouri Telehealth Network Show-Me ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) provides free continuing education for health care professionals about core concepts of patient-centered HIV care through online lunch-hour learning sessions on the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month. The sessions provide collaboration and ongoing learning with interdisciplinary teams of specialists and subject matter experts to equip health providers with advanced skills and best practices to provide better care in their communities. Topics discussed include transgender medicine and HIV, barriers to care from a patient perspective, HIV stigma, and new drugs currently being developed for HIV treatment and prevention. Register for sessions here.
The CDC offers provider education in the form of Clinician’s Chats videos, HIV prevention guidelines, Q&As, patient-facing digital toolkits and resource materials.
Empowering Black people living with HIV/AIDS includes providing equitable access to care and support systems as well as advocating for policy change.
As people cannot access services they are unaware exist, BlaqOut has instituted the Level Up program to reach Black LGBTQ+ people most vulnerable to HIV who may be unaware of the resources BlaqOut provides. Using social networking strategies and peer mentors called Empowerment Coaches, BlaqOut can reach the highest-risk people by leveraging relationship connections based on the underlying principle that people in the same social network trust each other and are more receptive to influence by peers who understand their lived experience.
BlaqOut additionally has a Leadership Academy (LEAD) Program specifically designed to cultivate future Black LGBTQ+ leaders equipped to drive positive change by developing leadership skills, fostering community engagement, and promoting social advocacy. The 12-month program includes individual development plans, a structured educational curriculum, coaching, mentoring, and peer learning.
Tell Your Partner: Tell Your Partner is a free service that allows a text to be sent to a sexual partner who might be at risk of a sexually transmitted disease. If you text a partner using this service, it will always be anonymous. This anonymous notification option assists with improving the rate of partner notification by letting your partner(s) know they should get tested.
– Call BlaqOut at 816-866-0355
– Vivent Health is an HIV medical home in Kansas City and other locations throughout the country that offers behavioral and mental health care, pharmacy services, a food pantry, medical care, HIV testing, case management, legal services, dental care, PrEP, and STI testing. Call 1-800-359-9272 or 816-561-8784.