As treatments for HIV have become more effective and available, the disease and the stories of people living with it have tended to drop off the radar.
This is arguably the case when it comes to African Americans living in the South who can especially be overlooked in disease awareness campaigns.
However, it’s important to recognize the facts of the matter: the South is the current epicenter of the HIV epidemic in America. According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on HIV surveillance, that region is responsible for 51% of all new HIV cases while only 38% of the US population lives there.
In order to highlight the issue and put a human face on some of those numbers, Theratechnologies launched I Am a Champion, a campaign centered on four leaders of the HIV+ African American community in the South. These individuals were selected to represent the diversity of the community in terms of gender and sexual orientation.
In conversations lasting more than a half an hour, David D. Robertson, MA, LMSW, a clinical therapist, Shadawn McCants, LPC-S, NCC, the clinical director of Know and Live Counseling and Consulting and Masonia Traylor, a mother of two and HIV/AIDS activist, share their professional work focused on the HIV+ community.
The first interview debuted in January while the final installment in the four-part will be released on Monday, April 24, timed to coincide with National Minority Health Month. It will feature Angela Zanieya Hunt, an African American trans woman. The event will air on Facebook Live and on the campaign website.
Hunt’s interviewer will be Theratechnologies community liaison Mable Taplin, who spoke with MM+M to explain the goals of the I Am a Champion.
“This campaign was born out of a response from what we heard from the HIV community and, particularly African Americans,” she explained. “We do a lot of community-based disease education and awareness campaigns. Over the last couple of years, we’ve received a lot of feedback that they’ve wanted more positive images of African Americans living and thriving with HIV. This campaign was a direct answer to that call.”
Continuing to build awareness of HIV among African Americans is essential, Taplin says, as the community is behind other Americans when it comes to certain key metrics.
“African Americans account for a higher proportion of new diagnoses and people with HIV compared to other races and ethnicities,” she said. “Moreover, the viral suppression rates and retention and care for Black Americans is on average 60% according to the CDC. The broader goal with the HIV epidemic is to have 90% of the population know their HIV diagnosis, and for 90% of those individuals to reach viral suppression. African Americans are not achieving those rates and we need to have more prioritization of awareness campaigns, prevention campaigns, and also linked care campaigns.”
Taplin said she sees the personal stories as a key aspect of the effort and describes it as one of several initiatives from Theratechnologies to create “safe spaces” to discuss HIV. I Am a Champion complements Thera Thursdays (a monthly webinar) and a Community Champion Program, which provides small grants to grassroots organizations.
“I Am a Champion highlights the lived experiences of African Americans in order to reduce stigma. It’s important to create safe spaces for the champions to share their stories because storytelling is the super power in ending HIV related stigma,” Taplin adds. “I hope that people who hear these stories can then speak to themselves and share their experiences, regardless of their HIV diagnosis. It’s a great opportunity for people to see their humanity in these stories.”