By TONIA HILL
The University of Chicago’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation (Ci3) in Sexual and Reproductive Health, today announced a two-year pilot study to increase access to PrEP (Pre-exposure prophylaxis) in drugstore pharmacies in communities with high rates of STI (sexually transmitted infection) and HIV infection.
The pilot program was made possible by a two-year grant from National Institutes of Mental Health that was recently awarded to Ci3, a research center at U. of C. that addresses the social and structural determinants of adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
PrEP is an HIV prevention strategy that HIV-negative individuals can use before coming into contact with HIV to reduce their risk of becoming infected.
The medications work to prevent HIV from establishing an infection inside the body.
PrEP has been shown, according to the Center for Disease Control, to reduce the risk of HIV infection if it is used as prescribed.
The pilot study will be led by Dr. Brandon J. Hill, executive director of Ci3 in partnership with Indiana University’s Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention (RCAP), AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and the Indiana Minority Health Coalition.
The research team will develop a community and pharmacy-based PrEP educational training program, a referral system for pharmacists and medical providers, and a PrEP educational kiosk to meet the needs of residents and pharmacy staff.
“We’re looking at how to increase HIV prevention medication access particularly in community pharmacies,” Hill said.
Ci3 consists of three labs: The Game Changer Chicago Design Lab; The Transmedia Story Lab; and The Design Thinking Lab. Within these labs, Ci3 creates games and digital narratives and design interventions with and for youth.
The group will focus their efforts on areas with high incidence of HIV infection based on data from the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Hyde Park has a lower prevalence area for HIV so South Side areas including Washington Park, South Shore, Woodlawn, and Englewood are places that will be considered for the pilot study.
“In 2015, Chicago youth ages 30 and younger represented nearly 50 percent of all new HIV infections, with nearly 30 percent occurring among those ages 13-24,” said Ci3 in a written statement. “Those who identified as Black/African American comprised 54 percent of all new infections and were more likely to be diagnosed at a younger age.”
Hill said, “We’ve done a lot of research on the distribution of HIV related resources, and there tends to be more [resources] downtown and North and [there are] not as many resources on the south side.”
During the pilot study, kiosks will be placed in select Walgreens pharmacies in Chicago, Indianapolis and, Gary, Ind.
Walgreens locations, according to Hill, presently have HIV specialty clinics and HIV specialty pharmacies.
“Everyone in the U.S. lives within 5 miles of a Walgreens (or drugstore, pharmacy). Walgreens and other community-based pharmacies are now becoming clinics or grocery stores,” said Hill, who said that they also serve as a primary care destination for residents who maybe uninsured or lack access to a primary care physician.
Hill said community-based pharmacies could start to contribute to improving healthcare for hard to reach populations.
“A person may not go to the hospital or to a primary care provider, but they will walk into a Walgreens,” Hill said. “It alleviates the barrier of transportation.”
The kiosks will feature information about HIV and sexual health information.
“The kiosk will be a more general sexual health,” Hill said. “It’ll be integrated into the pharmacy setting in a way that reduces the stigma associated with it.”
There is still a stigma associated with HIV, Hill said, noting that in his research he has found that there is also a stigma attached to the use of PrEP.
“We see the stigma among people who are using the medication,” Hill said. “People think it might be associated with having more sexual partners or promiscuous sexual behavior and really most people who are using PrEP are being proactive about prevention.”
The kiosks will function as an iPad and will use animation and videos to demonstrate what PrEP is as well as other STI’s.
It will also feature information on contraception weighing the potential side effects of the different types of contraception.
The first year of the pilot study will be dedicated to meeting with a community advisory board representative of the communities that will be target areas for kiosks.
Next summer, is when kiosks would be placed in select Walgreens pharmacies.
“The fight against HIV is most effective when all people have knowledge and equal access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) or the use of antiretroviral medications to prevent HIV infection among individuals who are HIV-negative,” Hill said in a written statement.
To find out more information visit ci3.uchicago.edu.