BAI ends 2018 with southern health department tours

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*By Larry R. Hygh, Jr. 

“As a result of the technical assistance I received from Black AIDS Institute, I was able to coordinate a PrEP Summit specifically for Black women. The event was highly successful in recruiting Black women from all walks of life and not only increased the participants awareness of PrEP, but empowered women to take control of their sexual health,” says Rochelle Rich, the Women’s HIV Prevention Coordinator for the Georgia Department of Public Health. This past December, staff from the Black AIDS Institute spent ten days with different health departments in the South.

Leisha McKinley-Beach,  BAI’s Manager for Health Departments, says, “The southern tour was setting the stage for 2019 with our continuing work with southern health departments in an even more robust way.”   The disparities of the HIV epidemic are most apparent in the South: most of the new incidences of HIV are located in the South, and specifically among Black Americans. At the same time, the South has the lowest “PrEP to Need” ratio among all the regions at 1.5 (for the sake of comparison, the Northeast is at 4.7), according to AIDSVu. Addressing these disparities takes multi-faceted approaches, and health departments are important stakeholders in this work.

BAI began the trip in Montgomery, Alabama, with the PrEP learning collaborative, a convening of organizations from around the state, including the health department, who shared best practices about PrEP education and provision. This is the fourth learning collaborative that BAI has produced in the South, with other jurisdictions including Fulton County, Houston, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg County.

From Montgomery, the team traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, (home to a few BAI staff members). There, the Georgia Department of Health and the Black AIDS Institute facilitated a day-long summit with frank and honest conversations about sexual health and HIV prevention. Presenters and panelists included health department officials, community educators from SisterLove, Inc., Kandi Burruss, of “Real Housewives of Atlanta”, and Dr. Heavenly from “Married to Medicine.”

The toolkit was co-branded by the state department of health. Rich says as a result of the support of BAI, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), will host four additional PrEP summits in 2019 and the co-branded toolkit will be distributed to all 18 districts in the state of Georgia.

Leaving Georgia, McKinley-Beach and Marie-Fatima Hyacinthe, BAI’s National Training and Programs Manager, went to Tallahassee, where they worked with the Florida Department of Health to facilitate a consultation on the Health Department’s relationship with the Haitian community. Hyacinthe is the daughter of Haitian immigrants, and says, “The Florida consultation was special because it really exemplified what it means for a room of healthcare providers to practice cultural humility and listen to lived experiences of community members.” McKinley-Beach says, “We want to make sure we are leaving a correct and effective imprint so that it will benefit the communities they are serving.”

The tour ended in New Orleans, with training for health department staff on how to present information about biomedical interventions and HIV treatment. Some of the health department staff even received an impromptu training on power mapping.

Reflecting on the tour, Leisha McKinley-Beach adds, “It was a constant reminder to me that the Institute is so critical in anyone’s program design that is focused on ending HIV in Black America. It doesn’t happen without us…Over the two weeks it was a reminder that we’re not just checking boxes, we’re helping the army of HIV professionals who serve the Black community.”

*Hygh is Senior Communications Manager for the Black AIDS Institute.