High impact AIDS prevention

Posted on 02 Oct 2015 at 8:05am

Abounding Prosperity and AIDS Arms receive grant money to address HIV in minority and marginalized populations


Abounding Propserity Founder and CEO Kirk Myers and Associate Director Tamara Stephney. (David Taffet/DallasVoice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Senior Staff Writer

The Centers for Disease Control awarded 90 high impact prevention grants to AIDS service organizations in June. Only six went to organizations in Texas, and of those six only two — Abounding Prosperity and AIDS Arms — are in North Texas. The grants are intended to fund work with people who are at high risk of contracting or spreading HIV.

Thanks to the grants, some people who are negative will be able to go on PrEP, a prevention regimen that includes taking the HIV medication Truvada.

AIDS Arms will use the grant funds to target people recently released from prison. That population is at high risk of spreading HIV unless they are connected to care.

AIDS Arms’ goal is to enroll those former inmates into their system, and within a short period of time get them to a doctor to prescribe the proper regimen so there’s no interruption in their medication.

While waiting for the federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program that covers the cost of AIDS medication to kick in, AIDS Arms has temporary funding options.

“Thats what some of your LifeWalk money is for,” said LifeWalk Director Tori Hobbs.

Abounding Prosperity is using its funding to target African-American men and Latino and African-American trans women.

Kirk Myers, AP founder and CEO, said the grant is part of a new national prevention strategy that focuses on following the epidemic. And the epidemic, he said, is spreading most rapidly among minorities across the South.

Myers listed a number of reasons for that: conservative states refusing Medicaid expansion, thus preventing many people from seeking medical care; homophobia; church doctrine that stigmatizes and encourages shame, guilt and self-loathing.

The project uses a multi-layered approach targeting high-risk minority populations using social networking strategies, social media and tangible incentives.

“Our approach is primarily testing,” Myers said. “We already have a robust testing program.”

AP is charged with identifying newly positive individuals and linking those people to care, as well as finding those who tested positive elsewhere and getting them re-engaged in care.

Myers said he talks to a lot of people who are positive and still healthy who are not thinking about their HIV. But the current recommendation is to get anyone who tests positive on medication before their t-cell levels fall or opportunistic infections strike.

For the partners of HIV-positive individuals or those engaging in risky behaviors, Myers said, there are a limited number of slots for those who are uninsured or underinsured to get on PrEP.

Myers said trans women of color are also at high risk for HIV for a number of reasons. Many are unemployed or underemployed, and their inability to obtain identification that matches their presentation contributes to that problem. Many trans people lose family and friends when they transition and, as a result, become homeless.

Myers said some have no other options for survival than engaging in sex work. And sharing needles for silicone or hormone injections adds to the problem of HIV infection for some trans women, he added.

AP is charged with identifying at least 24 new infections per year. Since the grant period began this summer, Myers said, they’ve already found eight, and during a normal year, AP identifies 70-100 people who test positive.

Tamara Stephney, AP associate director, calls herself the mother of the agency.

While her main position is quality assurance, making sure grant money is spent within the terms of the grant, she described what she does that an institution like Parkland couldn’t do for the community.

“When you come in, you become our extended family,” she said.

She said they develop personal relationships with their clients to keep them in care.

“We show you how to live with HIV, not die from it,” Stephney said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 2, 2015.


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