Working with Communities to End the HIV Epidemic: A Conversation with Leisha McKinley-Beach
At this year’s annual U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS (USCHA), I had the opportunity to speak with community health advocate and public health consultant Leisha McKinley-Beach during one of our HIV.gov Live with Leadership conversations. She and I talked about her work to support several Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America (EHE) jurisdictions with their planning efforts and how COVID-19 has affected that process. Following are some highlights of what Leisha shared.
EHE Planning During COVID-19: The Work Continues
Leisha has worked with EHE planning groups across the South in Mississippi, Georgia, and Orange and Pinellas Counties in Florida. Due to COVID-19, these groups have had to transition from in-person to virtual planning meetings, but the EHE work has continued. Jurisdictions that were already truly connected and engaged with community stakeholders did not miss a beat, she observed, they simply shifted to a new platform. The planning councils also reached out to bring everyone to the virtual space. In Pinellas County, for example, planning group members were very intentional about ensuring that community members who typically showed up for in-person meetings continued to be engaged virtually.
In some instances, she added, the shift to collaborating virtually required adding some variety to the meeting content to keep community members engaged, such as inviting Black historians to share stories of the community’s history rather than simply focusing on data. This also included facilitating dialogs about how the past influences where the community is now in the HIV epidemic and where community members believe EHE resources can have the greatest impact. The EHE process in the age of COVID-19 has given rise to new partnerships. In Mississippi, for example, the planning group hosted a virtual consultation with Latino leaders—something that had not happened in the pre-coronavirus physical space. By operating virtually, they were able to confer with the Latino leaders about EHE goals for the Latinx population.
Breaking Down Silos
Leisha also discussed the importance of breaking down silos around the disease, including developing EHE plans focused on HIV among Black women and Latinas, ending mother-to-child HIV transmission, and raising awareness about PrEP as a prevention tool for women, including women over 50. The Atlanta Black Women Leaders on PrEP coalition, Florida’s Sisters Organizing to Survive, and the national Positive Women’s Network are examples she named of organizations working across EHE jurisdictions to improve access to PrEP for women.
She also emphasized the importance of incorporating social and structural determinants of health, including unstable housing and the impact of racism on individuals and communities, into all of our EHE planning work. This is an important part of the foundation we need to achieve our desired EHE outcomes.
View our conversation.
For more information, visit HIV.gov’s Ending the HIV Epidemic pages.