The final installment in a series of profiles about the 15th Anniversary Black AIDS Institute Heroes in the Struggle Gala Reception and Awards Presentation honorees.
One of the key points laid out in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy is that both the public and private sectors must do their part to reduce the number of HIV/AIDS infections. Since the start of the epidemic, Walgreens has been a beacon of corporate leadership, saving lives and bettering communities in the process.
For the last 30 years, "we've been deeply committed to the community," says Markeisha Marshall, a spokeswoman for the Deerfield, Ill.-based company. Not only has Walgreens worked to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS through testing and education, but it has also improved the lives of PLWHA.
In recent years, Walgreens has teamed up with Greater Than AIDS, local health departments and AIDS organizations across the country to offer free testing on National HIV Testing Day each June 27. Last year, testing took place at 175 Walgreens stores in 54 cities. This year, Walgreens will again offer free testing in June, Marshall says.
The company also staffs more than 700 HIV-specialized pharmacies staffed by more than 2,000 HIV-trained pharmacists. "You can go into any Walgreens and pick up your medication, but you can also go to a specialized pharmacy, where you'll get more in-depth care and support," Marshall says.
Going Beyond Prescriptions
Specialized HIV training for Walgreens pharmacists is designed by experts from the National Alliance for HIV Education and Workforce Development, AIDS Education and Training Centers and the American Academy of HIV Medicine. By establishing pharmacies that specialize in managing HIV/AIDS, Walgreens makes life easier and healthier for PLWHA.
"We recognize that there are concerns around stigma, so we provide a safe place for people to come and work closely with a pharmacist to make sure they stay adherent to their medication," says Marshall.
Not only do pharmacists educate patients about HIV and the importance of treatment, but through regular interaction, they also develop relationships with the patients, creating an atmosphere of trust.
Many people have questions between doctor visits, so a pharmacist can often provide some answers. HIV-trained pharmacists can also help patients follow regimens as prescribed and deal with side effects that may occur as a result of the medications.
In addition, Walgreens' HIV-trained pharmacists have special training in some of the health conditions common among PLWHA, such as hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease. Often, people with multiple conditions will be prescribed different medications by different doctors, which could cause complications. If that happens, an HIV-trained pharmacist can help a patient deal with those complications. HIV-specialized pharmacies can also coordinate the refills of multiple medications so that it's easier for patients to stay adherent to all of them.
Walgreens' HIV-specialized pharmacies also help patients by providing information about financial assistance to help them afford their medications if their insurance doesn't cover all costs.
The Proof Is in Adherence
The best way to gauge whether any effort is working is by seeing results. Walgreens recently presented research from two studies exploring the impact the company's HIV-specialized pharmacies are having. The studies found that adherence to treatment for HIV was higher in patients who used HIV-specialized pharmacies than in those who used the company's regular retail pharmacies. Not only that, but people who had HIV and another health condition, such as hypertension or high cholesterol, also were more likely to take the medications for those other conditions as prescribed when they used HIV-specialized pharmacies.
One of the studies looked at adherence among HIV patients who also had severe mental illness. According to the findings, 32.7 percent of those patients took their ARV medications as prescribed, compared with 19.4 percent of patients with severe mental illness who used non-HIV-specialized pharmacies.
Such results benefit the entire community by helping PLWHA live a longer and healthier life while reducing their risk of transmitting HIV infection to someone else.
An End to the Epidemic
Although Walgreens has done a lot to improve life for PLWHA, the company is not resting on its laurels. Walgreens is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to find new ways to improve care for HIV patients and to better integrate the process of managing medication therapy with clinical treatments.
The company is trusted within the communities it serves, and it has the expertise to support health-care providers in their treatment of PLWHA. That combination can provide a lasting effect.
"Our goal is to be part of the solution to end AIDS," says Marshall.
Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and personal growth.