Penn Nursing and New York Blood Center Aim to Develop HIV Prevention Program for Women

The National Institute of Mental Health has granted researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and New York Blood Center $769,578 to go towards efforts to create an HIV awareness program for women.

Despite a number of scientific advancements, HIV remains a global problem; more than 1.2 million people are infected with the virus in the United States alone, and at least one in four of infected individuals are women.

Around 16.1 million women around the globe are estimated to be HIV-positive and millions more are at risk of infection. Unfortunately, despite a number of advancements being made in the fight against the potentially deadly virus, most current research fails to directly address women who are at high-risk of contracting the virus — until now.

In a powerhouse partnership with local community consulting groups, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, or Penn Nursing, and the New York Blood Center have been granted $769,578 from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to put towards their efforts to develop an awareness program designed to inform women on how to use oral medication pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

According to the Penn Nursing press release, oftentimes women are not even aware of the benefits of receiving PrEP, or that PrEP can be combined with additional preventive measures. In an effort to create awareness, and thus, increase HIV protection for those at high risk, researchers will conduct a study that will look into the different obstacles when it comes to accessing PrEP and healthcare. The study will focus on women from metropolitan areas within both New York and Philadelphia and research findings will be used to inform an outreach program.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are at higher risk for HIV can take PrEP, a daily pill that serves as a prevention tool to keep them from becoming infected with the virus. In 2014, about 87% of new HIV diagnoses in women were the result of sexual contact with HIV-positive males. However, if used regularly, each day, PrEP could significantly lower the risk of acquiring HIV through sexual intercourse by a whopping 90%.

Penn Nursing’s Anne M. Teitelman, PhD, FNP-BC, FAANP, FAAN, the Patricia Bleznak Silverstein and Howard A. Silverstein Endowed Term Chair in Global Women’s Health, associate professor of nursing, and one of the lead authors of the impending study, commented in a press release, “PrEP has been shown to be an effective HIV prevention method, especially when used in combination with other prevention practices. However, many women who could benefit from PrEP do not even know about it. Our goal is for this project to offer women an opportunity to learn about PrEP so they can decide if it’s right for them.”

Beryl A. Koblin, PhD, head of the Laboratory of Infectious Diseases Prevention at NYBC and other co-leader of the study added, “Women are living in a complicated context, with the stigma of HIV, difficult to access healthcare, and a general lack of awareness of this critical intervention option. It is our hope and belief that PrEP will protect women in the future as they become more aware of this prevention approach.”