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The Role of PrEP in HIV Prevention for Black Women: Power in Service

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to bring you this guest blog post from the Black Women’s Health Imperative. Be sure to check out their Let’s Talk About PrEP Exit Disclaimer campaign.

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”  ― Audre Lorde Exit Disclaimer

Black Womens Health Impreative - Image 2- not resized - used within blog - Aug 2016When we consider Ms. Lorde’s statement in the context of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States, we at the Black Women’s Health Imperative are daring Black women to be powerful and use their strength in the service of their own vision to remain healthy and HIV-negative. This statement symbolizes what we do to elevate the conversation about HIV prevention among Black women in America.  As a national organization dedicated to improving the health and wellness of our nation’s 21 million Black women and girls, we remain steadfast and vigilant in elevating Black women as a priority population in achieving the Strategy’s goals.

We envision Black women enjoying the best possible health, and, as such are compelled to promote Black women’s health and wellness, focusing on their strength and resiliency.  This includes educating them about the HIV prevention toolkit, which now includes PrEP, a powerful new tool that involves taking a daily pill to prevent HIV, as well as using condoms and getting tested.

Raising awareness among Black women is especially important because we are disproportionately affected by HIV, when compared with women of other races/ethnicities. According to CDC, of the total estimated number of women living with diagnosed HIV at the end of 2013, 61% (137,504) were Black, 17% (39,177) were white, and 17% (38,664) were Hispanics/Latinas. And a CDC study presented at CROI 2016 showed that the lifetime risk of HIV diagnosis for Black women is nearly 19 times that for white women and 5 times that for Latinas, There is no reason not to prevent what is preventable.  To get the word out to Black women about PrEP, we launched Let’s Talk About PrEP Exit Disclaimer, a national awareness campaign.

Black Womens Health Impreative - Image 1 - resized Aug 2016Let’s Talk About PrEP’s strategy is simple: Educate and engage. It’s closely aligned with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy in several ways.  First, the campaign was launched in Atlanta, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, which have some of the highest HIV rates in the country. Second, the campaign is designed specifically to engage Black women who are among the Strategy’s key populations. Third, it promotes HIV prevention and, specifically, PrEP by providing scientifically up-to-date, consistent information for and about Black women.  And finally, the campaign identifies clinical and non-clinical organizations that provide resources Black women can use to access culturally appropriate care, including PrEP.

Using multimedia platforms, including a website, and radio and digital ads, the campaign asks Black women, “Are You Having Sex?” and challenges them to get tested to find out their HIV status. It also encourages them to talk to their friends, family, and partners about the importance of taking charge of their sexual health and knowing all of the tools available to keep themselves safe.  The campaign’s stunning imagery of Black women gives Black women a reason to pause and say, “This is about us.”

The campaign also uses street teams of Black women peer advocates. Armed with flyers and pertinent information, the street teams meet Black women where they are—at concerts, festivals and beauty expos—and talk to them about HIV prevention and PrEP.

This peer-to-peer outreach, along with the campaign’s multimedia efforts have allowed us to reach one million people in within the first six months of the campaign. It’s become so popular, organizations launching their own PrEP campaigns and services have asked to co-brand our campaign materials, and universities, foundations, government agencies, and faith-based organizations have requested us to speak about PrEP at events.

The campaign is off to a strong start and is moving full steam ahead, educating Black women about how HIV impacts women who look like them all across America and empowering them to take advantage of the growing options for preventing HIV, including PrEP.  We invite you to join us in this campaign—learn more yourself, share the link Exit Disclaimer and talk about PrEP with others, because in the spirit of New York Poet Laureate Audre Lorde, we must all be powerful and use our strength in the service of working together for a future free of new HIV infections in the United States.