Did you know the two-state has an exceptionally high number of newly-diagnosed HIV-positive women? According to the CDC, African-American women in Georgia are 12 times as likely to get an HIV diagnosis as while women.
Now there's an opportunity to reach out to at-risk women through a program called SHE PREVAILS.
It's a three year, $1.6 million grant that has the potential to screen some 1600 women, and provide 6-month mental health and substance abuse treatment programs for 280 patients.
"When I moved here from Illinois and was already doing HIV work, it was predominately white men who had sex with men. And I got here and went in to the clinic and it seemed like every other face I saw was an African American woman," said Dr. Lara Stepleman.
Stepleman is the Director of HIV Psychological Services at Georgia Regents Health System. She is excited about SHE PREVAILS: Supporting Health Engagement through Prevention, Recovery, and Empowerment Via Access, Intervention, and Linkage Services.
It's a long title for a program that builds on the strengths of African American women to overcome the challenges of substance abuse, physical and emotional abuse, and more.
"And so this grant really afforded us the ability to increase the number of treatment navigators, start prevention programs that are tailored for African American women that were developed thru the CDC and really brought in our reach."
That's important because African American women can face many barriers to treatment-- poverty, child care, poor transportation, lack of resources- in this case, substance abuse treatment. So the program meets women "where they are" and draws on the inherent bonds of sisterhood to empower women.
"How do we take that resiliency, sense of community and faith, and propel them forward, toward the things they want in their life?"
One way is through peer educators, like Kathleen.
"So many women who are in treatment never had anybody they could look at say, 'OK, she knows exactly what I'm going through.' When I was diagnosed I didn't have that face."
15 years ago Kathleen thought she had cancer. She went to the doctor the day her labs were back... and the then-mother of an 8, 10, and 14-year old was told she had HIV.
"So I had to come back out and face my child and drive home- with at that point, I thought a 'death sentence' and drive back home."
Unlike the women in SHE PREVAILS, Kathleen was never a drug user, but she knows all about living with HIV and the social stigma that goes along with it.
"I have to bring up the stigma and the discrimination, it's really, really hard. So, hopefully having me as a part of the group they won't feel so isolated and again, as Dr. Stepleman has said, they can find hope. I was just like them at one point, and not that I'm better now, but I'm so much stronger."
Kathleen, Dr. Stepleman, and treatment navigators are part of a team at GRU that will build a bridge between identifying a need for treatment and the willingness to get treatment.
"Their job is to really identify the array of needs they have, whether that's testing, education, literacy, mental health care- and really work toward finding a way to get those services to women."
For more information about screening for the program, call Kena Arnold @ 706-721-2126.
Team members are happy to speak to clubs and civic groups.... and if you are a business owner who wants to support the program, you can donate gift cards, gift baskets, or any other "door prize" items to be used as incentives for participation.
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