‘Stigma is still killing students’: Inside a student-driven program to prevent HIV at HBCUs
In 2004, two violent anti-LGBTQ assaults at traditionally Black faculties and universities prompted one of many largest homosexual and trans lobbying teams, the Human Rights Marketing campaign, to start out an outreach program for HBCUs.
Nearly 20 years later, an enlargement of that program has set a distinct aim: to guard HBCU college students earlier than they’re in danger. Launched in 2022, the PrEP Ambassador Program is designed to battle stigma round HIV and AIDS and educate college students about testing and therapy choices.
One of these schooling is especially vital at HBCUs, consultants say, as Black individuals and younger persons are at a disproportionate danger of contracting HIV.
Pre-Publicity Prophylaxis, higher referred to as PrEP, describes preventative drugs for people who find themselves HIV unfavorable however may very well be uncovered to it. PrEP reduces the prospect of getting sexually transmitted HIV by about 99% when taken as prescribed, in line with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
By means of the PrEP Ambassador program, HBCU college students study well being fairness, HIV and its prevention choices. Additionally they be taught to speak to their friends about these topics and obtain a $1,500 stipend to allow them to create PrEP consciousness campaigns and manage instructing packages on their campuses.
The primary cohort of ambassadors from seven faculties, a mixture of college students who determine as LGBTQ or straight, are taking part through the 2022-2023 educational 12 months. By means of their efforts, about 25 college students received on PrEP and lots of extra turned acquainted with advances healthcare has made in HIV therapy, in line with Leslie Corridor, director of the HRC Basis’s HBCU Program.
“This was the very first time that many of those college students had even heard about PrEP. These biomedical interventions have not existed for lengthy,” he mentioned.
Elementary to this system is the concept that college students will likely be extra receptive to conversations round PrEP in the event that they’re initiated by different younger individuals in comparable conditions.
“We wished their Black friends — college students on campus that appear like them and go to the identical homecoming and occasions like them — to have the ability to speak to them competently, with out judgment, about their sexual well being,” Corridor mentioned.
Rising the attain
Regardless of making up simply 12% of the U.S. inhabitants, Black individuals signify 43% of HIV diagnoses, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And CDC data exhibits that 1 in 5 new diagnoses are made for these between ages 13 and 24.
Thus, HBCUs entice college students who’re notably in danger for contracting the virus, in line with Robert Fullilove, professor of medical public well being and affiliate dean for neighborhood and minority affairs at Columbia College’s public well being college. He additionally co-chaired the CDC’s Advisory Committee on HIV and STD Prevention.
Stigma continues to be killing college students. It is nonetheless killing communities.
Director of the Human Rights Marketing campaign Basis’s HBCU Program
Fullilove backed the assertion that peer-to-peer advising can assist break down stigma and assist individuals search therapy.
“Since its very beginnings, HIV, like many well being situations, has had a dramatic impression on communities of shade,” he mentioned. “Having the dialog with somebody who has the identical values, the identical life-style, makes it that a lot simpler to have a troublesome dialog and proceed successfully.”
In its program, HRC is specializing in faculties within the South — comprehensible on condition that’s the place most HBCUs are situated. However there’s one other motivating issue, Corridor mentioned. Amongst individuals receiving new HIV diagnoses, 51% report being within the South.
College students ages 19 to 23 attending an HBCU in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina or Florida have been in a position to apply to be a member of the 2023 ambassador cohort.
Location impacts healthcare entry as properly. Applications like one from the U.S. Division of Well being & Human Providers cover the cost of PrEP medication. However the price of clinic visits and lab checks nonetheless fall to sufferers in the event that they’re uninsured. Some states, like California and Colorado, run their very own packages to assist bridge the hole. However in Louisiana, for instance, there are only a few, if any, native HIV packages that cowl PrEP and the prices related to it, Corridor mentioned.
“Infectious illness docs inform us early detection is the most effective key to residing an extended, wholesome life,” he mentioned. “Stigma continues to be killing college students. It is nonetheless killing communities.”
HRC labored with Q Care Plus, a subsidiary of healthcare firm Avita Care Options, to distribute PrEP by means of a telehealth choice designed to chop down on stigma.
“You would do every part out of your cell phone, also have a supplier appointment,” Corridor mentioned. It is a important assist to college students who need entry to preventative remedy however don’t need their households to know. And it is a sturdy various to campus well being companies.
“Many LGBTQ college students don’t really feel comfy going into the medical facilities on campus and getting the kind of sexual well being therapy that they want,” Corridor mentioned. Campus well being facilities, whereas a invaluable useful resource, can have medical employees who’re unfamiliar with LGBTQ care, he added. And nursing college students may work there, making a problem for LGTBQ college students who aren’t out but.
The graduating class
Erica McPheeters, a pupil at Kentucky State College, was chosen as one of many program’s first individuals. Earlier than making use of, she was already energetic in her college’s pupil authorities affiliation and advocating for LGBTQ help companies.
However attending the HRC coaching in Washington, D.C. along with her fellow ambassadors affected her in a means she hadn’t skilled earlier than.
“That was actually one of the crucial transformative experiences I’ve ever had, just because I used to be with like-minded individuals who have been so passionate concerning the issues I am obsessed with,” McPheeters mentioned.
As soon as she was again on campus, McPheeters started gathering survey information about her friends’ perceptions of PreP, HIV and AIDS, and sexual well being extra broadly.
Primarily based on her findings, McPheeters developed outreach packages to deal with among the stigma and misconceptions she heard.
“Folks would inform me that my speaking about it was solely exacerbating the issue. I used to be just a little greatly surprised,” she mentioned.
To achieve individuals she could not speak to in particular person, she created an info marketing campaign known as HIV Schooling — HIVE for brief — and used Instagram as a useful resource outdoors of occasions.
“We do not have gender research right here,” she mentioned. “There’s not loads of coaching like this apart from the strides that the scholars are making.”
College students can solely function ambassadors as soon as, in an effort to succeed in college students at many faculties. However Corridor and McPheeters are discussing methods she might function a mentor for the following cohort.
Final 12 months, roughly 40 college students utilized for the ambassador program, in line with Corridor, and 10 in the end served. HRC is hoping to develop the following group to round 15.
“I really like having loads of purposes as a result of it exhibits there’s an urge for food for this kind of program,” Corridor mentioned.
McPheeters’ first piece of recommendation for brand spanking new ambassadors?
“Be affected person with your self,” she mentioned. “Scholar leaders are actually diligent, particularly once they care about one thing. However in loads of instances, you do not all the time obtain the opinion or the response you thought you’ll. You must be form to your self.”