Public Health Heroes: BCHD’s innovative approach to HIV prevention and linkage to treatment

Baltimore has a long history of being hit hard by the HIV epidemic. Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD) has had an active HIV prevention outreach program since 2004, including HIV testing in communities at risk of HIV, ensuring those who are HIV positive are in medical care (referred to as linkage to care),  and educating the community on behavior change, such as abstinence and condom use. Because the risk of acquiring HIV is related to many socio-cultural, economic, political and legal factors, these methods alone are not enough to combat the epidemic. .

BCHD has recently expanded their HIV prevention program through the Initiative to Maximize Prevention, Access, Care, and Treatment (IMPACT) collaborative. This innovative, multi-pronged, multi-disciplinary initiative sheds light on stigma associated with HIV, address the particular needs of each individual, enhances the voice of the community in HIV prevention, and builds collaborations among HIV prevention partners across Baltimore City. This city-wide collaborative includes hospital-based and community HIV providers, community advocacy organizations, faith-based groups, and community based organizations who address access to HIV prevention and treatment services, and is the first of its kind addressing HIV in Baltimore.

As part of IMPACT, HIV prevention interventions are designed by and for people living with HIV and those at highest risk for acquiring HIV. Clients’ voices are acted on in more effective and intentional ways than ever before. For example, social media campaigns and community story telling events enhance the voice of the HIV community, decrease stigma associated with HIV, and promote HIV prevention services.   

One of the newer HIV prevention services is PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a pill people at high risk of HIV can take to prevent them from acquiring HIV if they are exposed to it. Through IMPACT, BCHD has established a city-wide collaborative to provide PrEP to those at risk of HIV. Individuals from the LGTBQ community work as Peer Navigators.  They effectively and credibly serve their community by linking people to PrEP preventive care, or HIV treatment services.

 “The IMPACT Collaborative has created great synergy across the city in addressing HIV prevention and care,” said Dr. Patrick Chaulk, Assistant Commissioner of the Bureau of HIV/STD Services. “We are diligently trying to frame our work around the issue of medical mistrust…[it] is central to creating welcoming environments for all patients. Mistrust also can go beyond the health care system to many other public institutions.”

BCHD is tackling the HIV epidemic from many angles so that stigma no longer prevents Baltimoreans from getting tested, treated, or educated about the realities of HIV. These interventions do not just sound effective; they are effective. Between 2010 and 2016 the number of new HIV infections in Baltimore declined by 45.2%.

Related Stories

Note from the Commissioner: Protecting our Community’s Health

This week, I celebrated the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month celebration as the keynote speaker for the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office. By invitation of Special Agent in Charge Gordon Johnson, I applauded the efforts of the FBI to embrace diversity and inclusion in their work. I discussed the shared core values driving the work of those of us on the frontlines of public health and public safety: Compassion, fairness, and respect for the dignity of all those we protect. And I had the opportunity conduct a naloxone training for agents and analysts and discuss how addiction is a disease for which we must all approach with urgency.

All sectors must be engaged to protect our community’s health and well-being. I was glad to provide the opening keynote for the United Way of Central Maryland’s Emerging Leaders United Young Professionals Conference. These young professionals are coming from backgrounds as diverse as finance, law, architecture, and accounting, but each of them are engaged in social justice and community service. Researchers and academics can be just as engaged. Last Thursday, I presented to doctors, nurses, and public health researchers as part of the Women’s Health, Sex, and Gender Research Symposium at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. There, I discussed the importance of academic researchers building relationships with the local communities in which they work. Everyone can make a difference in the communities we live and serve.

Subscribe to the Bmore Healthy newsletter.

Note From The Commissioner: Treating Addiction in our Hospitals

Last week, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh and I convened all 11 hospitals in Baltimore to announce our partnership to combat the opioid epidemic. Addiction is a disease. Treatment for it cannot be siloed and stigmatized.

Baltimore City hospitals have done exceptional work already. Nearly all of our City’s ERs offer medication-assisted treatment on demand and peer recovery specialists, something true of no other major city in America. Through my standing order for naloxone, more than 36,000 residents have been trained to use the antidote medication, and these residents have saved more than 1,900 lives. Law enforcement and health officials teamed up to start a program that allows residents arrested for low-level drug offenses the opportunity to choose treatment and case management instead of prosecution. In March, we announced the opening of our Stabilization Center, a first-of-its-kind 24/7 urgent care facility dedicated to issues of addiction and mental health.

Subscribe to the Bmore Healthy newsletter.

Note From The Commissioner: Fostering a Culture of Equity, Diversity, and Respect.

Last Saturday, I had the honor of participating in the 2018 Women of the World (WOW) Festival held at Notre Dame of Maryland University. I shared my personal and professional journey with some incredible trailblazing women, including Major General Linda Singh, the first African-American and first woman to become Adjutant General of Maryland.

I was especially honored to meet Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, whose personal story and heroic resilience has been so moving to witness. Ms. Burke spoke about the intersection of race, gender, and class in her experience as a survivor of sexual violence and as an advocate for women and girls.

Subscribe to the Bmore Healthy newsletter.