Healthcare workers renew efforts to increase HIV testing as part of a national strategy to make best use of highly effective tools now available – specifically, HIV treatment and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Equitas Health, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Health and local health departments, is leading efforts to raise awareness and increase testing as rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men and transgender people of color continue to increase.
According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at the end of 2017, in the state of Ohio, a total of 23,587 persons were living with diagnosed HIV infection, 45% of those infections were among Black/African-Americans despite representing only 14.2% of Ohio’s population.
“The disproportionate rates of HIV infections have become an issue of racial equity in our present health systems, we can and will do better. The advent of PrEP and the efficacy of HIV medication have rendered the HIV virus untransmittable,” says Dwayne Steward, Equitas Health’s Director of Prevention.
Earlier this year the Ohio Department of Health awarded Equitas Health $1 million grant to increase access to the HIV preventative intervention, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and to support Harm Reduction efforts.
PrEP is a game-changing intervention that allows HIV-negative individuals to take a once daily medication to prevent HIV infection. The funding has allowed for 15 new Prevention Health Navigation positions in Columbus, Toledo, Akron, Dayton, Youngstown, Lima, Athens and Portsmouth. Navigators are helping individuals at risk for HIV connect with PrEP services and help remove barriers to the intervention.
The funding for navigators comes as the Ohio Department of Health launched a Prevention Assistance Program Interventions (PAPI) program in October 2018. The PAPI program provides financial assistance to cover office and medical copays; copays associated with required laboratory work; prescription copays that are not covered by a patient assistance program; medical services for people who are not eligible for insurance.
“We now have all the tools we need to end the HIV epidemic. Key community partnerships along with the PAPI program will allow us to remove the main barriers we have seen to this life-saving intervention. This program complements Equitas Health’s robust services for those living with HIV, as we work to ensure those infected or affected continue to have the medical care they need,” said Bill Hardy, Equitas Health’s President & CEO.
One such partnership is the U.N.I.T.Y. Project (Uplifting Nurturing Inspiring Teaching Your true value) between Equitas Health and the Columbus Public Health Department, it provides an affirming social and wellness space for same gender loving men of color. The collaboration includes organizing events such as a Field Day for National HIV Testing Day, participants can participate in activities include dodgeball, kickball, corn hole and more with HIV testing provided, the event is free.