According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 37,000 new HIV infections the U.S. in 2018. While the overall incidence of HIV has decreased in recent years, new infections have increased among some populations. In addition, stigma has an impact on whether people get tested, enter treatment, or choose prevention methods like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). A new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services initiative, Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE), aims to address these challenges and reduce new HIV infections by 90% in 10 years.
To support this important initiative, Westat communications researcher Belinda Gaston, M.P.H. and her team have built a national network of HIV prevention partners. Westat provides health communication resources, training, and technical assistance to CDC’s nonprofit, academic, faith-based, health care provider, and civic organization partners. According to Ms. Gaston, “Nobody knows the populations that the CDC wants to reach better than our partners.” She continued, “These partners are vital to the success of the EHE initiative and play an important role in helping the CDC extend the reach and impact of its HIV prevention programs.”
Westat developed a rigorous vetting process to recognize and retain partners that will help increase prevention, reduce HIV stigma, and encourage people diagnosed with HIV to get in care and stay on treatment. “We like to say that we turn partners into champions,” says Ms. Gaston. “Ongoing support from these partners is key to CDC’s efforts to disseminate HIV prevention resources to communities that would otherwise be difficult to reach.”
To facilitate this outreach to the most impacted populations – gay, same gender loving, and bisexual men; African Americans; and Latinx – Westat creates tools and resources, including social media content, digital banners, tailored messaging, and virtual events, to make it easy for partners to share HIV information. With these resources and in conjunction with National HIV/AIDS Awareness Days, partners have developed innovative ways to get the word out – hosting webinars, Instagram DJ parties, and virtual events focused on HIV testing, HIV and faith, and HIV in rural communities.
Westat is providing communications and partnership development support for the CDC’s Let’s Stop HIV Together (Together), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s EHE initiative. Together’s primary focus area are: testing, prevention, treatment, and stigma reduction. Ms. Gaston points out, “We are proud of the HIV work Westat supports and the impact we are having on the CDC’s efforts to end the HIV epidemic.”
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