Idea exchange: The ‘Party People’ address health disparities
More people than ever are using PrEP, an effective HIV prevention strategy that involves taking a daily medication named Truvada, since it was approved by the FDA in 2012. Yet in San Francisco and in other places, people of color are accessing and using PrEP at much lower rates than their white counterparts.
In January 2018, a team of San Francisco AIDS Foundation community engagement staff attended the National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities meeting (NAESM) in Atlanta to share what they’ve learned about how to reach African American men with PrEP information and services.
Tony Bradford, MA, associate director of community engagement, Travis Wise, program coordinator for Black Brothers Esteem (BBE), Terrance Wilder, program coordinator for the DREAAM Project, and Joe Anthony Gonzalez, PrEP engagement and outreach coordinator, shared information about the PrEP services and programming for African American men who have sex with men at San Francisco AIDS Foundation.
“PrEP in communities of color was the biggest conversation last year, at NAESM 2017,” said Bradford. “Especially the lack of information about PrEP in communities of color and communities of color not believing that PrEP can be for them. We decided to attend NAESM this year because I thought it was important to share our lessons learned. And share how we have adopted the PrEP initiatives into our already existing African American MSM programs.”
Since February of 2017, San Francisco AIDS Foundation has collaborated with other health agencies in the city, including the San Francisco Department of Public Health, to increase PrEP uptake among African American men who have sex with men.
The foundation’s community engagement programs DREAAM and BBE have been central to these efforts—hosting popular social events that attract new clients and combine social opportunities with education and health services. Some of the most popular events have been “PrEP Rally” day parties and “Gaymer Nights,” which are both held at Strut, the health and wellness center operated by San Francisco AIDS Foundation, in the Castro.
Details about these events drew questions from attendees at the conference, said Bradford. “We had one guy from Birmingham, Alabama who works in a clinical setting. He’s got the testing and those kinds of services, but he doesn’t have the ‘party people.’ He was like, ‘How do I do what you guys are doing?’ We talked about how collaboration—with other agencies, groups or individuals that can bring the party and folks to your clinic—is key. We had to bring the party to Strut! And that included drag queens, dancers, raffles, contests, spoken word, and food. The biggest lesson is that you have to use social media to connect with young folks.”
Gonzalez, the team’s PrEP program coordinator, meets with potential PrEP clients to help them set up appointments, and then helps them through their first year of taking PrEP.
“We have someone who can help our community—our brothers and trans sisters—get connected with PrEP through our clinics, but can also follow them through and help them with adherence and other issues. I love that Joe Anthony is able to meet people where they’re at, sign them up, get them an appointment at Strut, or at one of our partner organizations. That’s a win-win, especially for communities of color who might not be in care,” said Bradford.
A new program is also underway to train “PrEP ambassadors,” who are members of the community—gay men but also “aunties” and other allies—to share accurate information about PrEP with people in their networks.
“We just had our first weekend retreat for ambassadors on January 13,” said Bradford. “We had a dozen people show up to the first info session, and now have about five or six people who are genuinely interested in being part of this. These are people who have a passion for getting information about PrEP into their community.”