On Wednesday, February 8, 2018, In an effort to address the evolving needs of those most at risk in the HIV/AIDS epidemic and commemorate Black AIDS Awareness Day, the Black AIDS Institute, in partnership with St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, opened its first Black HIV prevention clinic in Los Angeles.
“It’s really important as a national HIV/AIDS think tank that we’re not only talking about best practices to end AIDS in local communities, but that we’re also working to actively end the AIDS epidemic in the community that we love, live and play in,” says Raniyah Copeland, the director of programs for the Black AIDS Institute.
The new prevention clinic will offer a range of services, including access to biomedical interventions like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (nPEP), treatment as prevention (TasP), and linkage to other prevention support services. The clinic will begin operating weekly on Monday, March 5, 2018. The Institute and St John’s are also launching a Black men’s health clinic that is set to open April 20, 2018.
On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Institute’s prevention-clinic staffers tested 29 people for HIV in the Westlake/MacArthur Park neighborhood, where the prevention clinic is located. Two people tested positive for HIV, one was linked to care and the second one is being followed by a treatment advocate; two people who previously tested positive for HIV were also linked to care. Six people received referrals for PrEP, and four people received prescriptions for PrEP, which were picked up the next day.
“We know that Black people are not using PrEP in the same way that we are being affected by HIV,” Copeland says. “If we don’t start using the tools that are available to us, we’re going to start seeing the huge disparity between Black and White HIV infection rates getting even larger.”
Copeland says that Black people face unique barriers when it comes to accessing PrEP, including a history of medical mistrust, a lack of PrEP providers, and an overall shortage of culturally competent and socially responsive medical professionals who can administer the life-changing biomedical intervention.
With the new clinic and a spate of other programs, the Institute plans to directly address those deficiencies, starting in its own backyard.
Jim Mangia, the president and CEO of the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, says that each organization brings a lot to the table when it comes to providing services, community engagement, and health-care advocacy in and around Los Angeles.
“To be able to marshal all of those resources in partnership with the Black AIDS Institute, in a culturally sensitive and empowering way, breaks down many of the barriers that exist to the Black community accessing care,” Mangia says. “The Black AIDS Institute has an incredible relationship with the African American community and a rich history of both advocating and engaging around issues that impact the Black community.”
Mangia continues: “When you bring these two organizations together, what we’re talking about is impacting HIV care, HIV outreach and HIV services for years to come.”
Phill Wilson, the president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, says that HIV doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
“The prevention clinic is just the start. There are a lot of HIV providers in Los Angeles doing great work, yet the disparities persist. Clearly, Black people and particularly Black gay and bisexual men are not getting what they need and deserve,” Wilson says. ”People living with HIV/AIDS or at high risk for HIV infection have other health issues as well. This partnership with St. John’s allows us to provide HIV care in the context of all of the other care our community needs. We’re treating the whole human being.”
The two organizations’ other joint venture, a Black men’s primary care clinic in Leimert Park, a neighborhood in South Los Angeles, will open two days a week starting April 20th. Wilson says that this clinic is critical because “health is often at the very bottom of Black men’s priority list. When it comes to accessing healthcare, Black men fare worse than women or White men.”
“One critical group that needs to be spotlighted and needs a safe haven for receiving primary health care, including for HIV, is Black men,” says Institute board chair, Grazell Howard. “HIV is no longer a death sentence. We have so many biomedical interventions and tools, what better way than to have a clinic dedicated to the group most at risk?”
Later this year, the Institute will also open a “drop-in” center/clinic that will function as a community space focused on the needs of young, Black gay men. The center will feature workshops and programs related to job readiness, continuing education, linkage to essential services like housing, mental health, substance use, and access to health care.
“One thing that young, Black HIV positive gay men feel is that people care about their disease, but don’t care about them,” Wilson says. “We want young men to know we see them. We hear them. We care about them, all of them. The center will provide a place for them to learn from each other how to thrive if they’re living with HIV and how to thrive if they are HIV free. We want to create an environment where young, Black gay men see themselves through their assets and not through their perceived shortcomings.”
The Institute encourages young, Black men and people of color, in general, to get involved in the design and development of the new programs that the Institute will roll out this year.
“We need and want folks to join us, and we want their input to make sure that what we’re building is what they want,” Howard says. “We’re trying to build healthy communities. If we can address health in a more comprehensive way, we feel that we will be more effective in dealing with the specifics of HIV.”
Copeland continues: “Historically, these programs are built for the “community”, not by the community. We believe that we have the capacity, the knowledge, the human resources and the wisdom within our community to address these issues. Breaking the cycle of colonialism is important, and that’s what this series of programs is all about. It’s really taking to heart [the late Washington, D.C., civic leader] Calvin Rolark’s saying, ‘Nobody can save us but us.’”
Howard agrees, saying, “The Black AIDS Institute constantly remains vigilant to our mission and remains at the forefront of delivering the information, the tools and now the services that are most critical to survival and progress in our community. We are not really funded to do this. We are stepping out on faith. We are doing this because there is a need and this is our community.”
For more information about the Black AIDS Institute or to get involved with the prevention clinic, the Black men’s primary care clinic or the drop-in center, please visit blackaids.org.