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Georgia: New Program Helps Reduce HIV Risk in African-American Women

January 24, 2014

This article was reported by Medical Xpress.

Medical Xpress reported that the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents (GR) University launched a community-based program, SHE PREVAILS, to reduce HIV infections by treating substance abuse and mental health problems among African-American women. Funded by a three-year, $1.6 million Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) grant, the intervention began with substance abuse and mental health screening and referral of 1,600 women in 15 counties in the Augusta, Ga., area and followed up with six months of comprehensive care.

Dr. Lara Stepleman, director of HIV psychological services at GR Health System and SHE PREVAILS program director, explained that women with substance abuse issues who were not HIV-positive had higher risk of making choices that could lead to HIV infection. HIV-positive women who were untreated were more likely to make choices that could infect others. Stepleman described the program as "building a bridge between identification of a need for treatment and willingness to get treatment."

Stepleman noted that most of the women in the GR Health System HIV clinic were African American and many already were very sick when they sought help. As matriarchs, the women often felt obliged to care for family members before themselves and would not reveal their HIV infections. CDC estimated that HIV incidence for black women was 12 times higher than for white women in Georgia.

Treatment navigators would address collateral issues, including safe, affordable housing and unhealthy sexual relationships, with participants, and would assist them in gaining access to care. The program also provided HIV prevention classes and treatment for women with a history of sexual, physical, or emotional abuse. SAMHSA funding would allow GR Health System to add a second treatment navigator and augment existing screening efforts carried out by the Ryan White team in the clinic's Infectious Diseases section.

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