Listening Session with NHAS and EHE Partners in Louisiana Highlights Need for Continued Partnerships
In April, while in town for STD Engage, a meeting convened by the National Coalition of STD Directors which brought together state and local sexual health professionals along with community-based partners, I took some additional time to meet with partners working to end HIV in Louisiana. During the listening session, I was able to hear about jurisdictional efforts toward implementing the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative and other activities that align with the overall National HIV/AIDS Strategy for 2022–2025 (NHAS). Listening session participants represented Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and the state of Louisiana.
Session Highlights Health Equity Challenges
Both New Orleans (Orleans Parish) and Baton Rouge (East Baton Rouge Parish) are two of the 57 EHE jurisdictions or regions that, when combined with the other jurisdictions around the U.S., account for more than 50% of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. In these two jurisdictions and across the state, HIV is disproportionately impacting communities of color (e.g., Black women), as well as sexual and gender minorities (e.g., Black gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men). These disparities highlight health equity issues that require strategic coordination of resources and partnerships to fully address the socio-structural factors that underlie these inequities. It was great to have a conversation with participants about how the NHAS and the EHE initiative are catalysts for addressing the needs of communities hardest hit by HIV in this southern state.
Addressing HIV Challenges
Listening session attendees included local officials, medical providers, community members, and others. Listening session presenters represented the Louisiana Department of Health’s STD HIV/Hepatitis Program, the New Orleans Health Department, the Baton Rouge EHE CommissionExit Disclaimer, as well as a community-based organization, Women with a VisionExit Disclaimer. Presentations and discussions centered on showing current HIV data in the region, with an emphasis on statistics for the state, New Orleans, and Baton Rouge that highlighted unique challenges across the region, such as emergency preparedness issues (e.g., hurricanes) impacting HIV clients’ ability to receive care, inadequate PrEP access, HIV criminalization laws, and the need for more timely and accurate HIV data. Some of the presenters explained how many of these challenges are being addressed through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program community health workers who bridge the gap between services and the people who need them, as well as other avenues. Additionally, presentations showcased the initiatives Get Loud Louisiana!Exit Disclaimer, a state-wide effort with specific goals and plans for addressing HIV, and Bounce to ZeroExit Disclaimer, an innovative strategy to address HIV in New Orleans and the surrounding areas.
We ended the day by having a question-and-answer session. It was great to dive into a range of topics including the potential addition of wrap-around services addressing social determinants of health into a national PrEP program and the impact of housing policies on HIV-related outcomes. We also heard about the different ways they are incorporating U=U into their work to combat HIV-related stigma and encourage engagement in HIV treatment. The Partners from Baton Rouge and New Orleans reinforced my belief that the strategies and objectives laid out in the NHAS continue to be a roadmap for dealing with challenges faced by many individuals in our communities.