Story at a glance
- ViiV Healthcare piloted a $10 million program in two cities to improve access to care for gay and bisexual Black men living with HIV.
- A new report breaks down the importance of stronger networks, safe spaces and peer navigation to engage Black men and effectively combat stigma.
- The accelerate campaign is investing another $10 million into expanding their efforts through multi-year grants and other flexible funding.
Jackson, Miss., and Baltimore have a few things in common. As the most populous cities in their respective states, a majority of their residents are Black. They're also two of the cities hardest hit by the HIV and AIDS pandemics, with some of the highest death rates in the country.
"The one thing I tried not to be a part of, I became. Now I’m a statistic. I wasn’t trying to be a statistic; I was just trying to be in love. I’m a statistic now...and with medication, that’s not going to change," one man in Jackson told interviewers in an ethnographic study of both cities in 2015.
So when ViiV Healthcare launched "accelerate," an initiative to support community-driven projects focused on helping gay and bisexual Black men living with HIV, they weren’t quite sure how it would be received. But with half of all Black gay men projected to be diagnosed with HIV during their lifetime as recently as in 2016, the need was dire.
READ MORE LGBTQ+ STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA
"I already have strikes on me—being Black, gay, having HIV," said another participant in the study.
Four years in, the initiative has engaged with 4,600 men in both cities to address the stigma and lack of access that endanger their health and their lives. The company partnered with community organizations in both cities to strengthen networks and peer navigation services as well as promote sex education, with an emphasis on decreasing stigma and increasing both access and engagement in care.
"HIV cannot be addressed in a vacuum. A person’s 'wholeself,' including housing stability, mental health and economic wellbeing, must be considered for programming to be successful," concludes a retrospective study published Thursday.
Decreasing stigma requires creating safe spaces for men to connect and learn to advocate for themselves, especially when it comes to medical care, where access isn't the only problem. Many harbored mistrust of medical professionals and the health care system, often due to personal experience.
“We’re thankful to the men in Baltimore and Jackson that trusted us with stories that are often overlooked,” said P.J. Moton-Poole, senior manager at ViiV Healthcare leading the accelerate campaign, in a statement. “It’s the bravery, authenticity and resilience of the community that helps us direct our resources toward sustainable solutions that close gaps in care. We’ll continue to listen to and learn from Black men across the country, so no one is left behind.”
So far, they've been successful. Successful enough, at least, that the company is increasing their overall investment by another $10 million through grants and flexible funding for qualifying proposals to expand the initiative into other cities.
“Our increased funding in ‘accelerate’ is part of an overall increased investment from $10 million to $20 million for community infrastructure and leadership for the populations most affected by HIV. We believe that authentic and deep community involvement is the path to improved trust in systems, decreased stigma, and increased engagement in care," said Marc Meachem, Head of US External Affairs at ViiV Healthcare, in the release.
READ MORE LIKE THIS FROM CHANGING AMERICA