AIDS Foundation Houston (AFH), the first nonprofit in Texas dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention, education, and services, is on a mission to end the HIV epidemic in the Greater Houston area—a mission that doesn’t come cheap. Fortunately, Gilead Sciences, Inc. is helping fund their cause.
Gilead, a leader in the development of HIV antiretroviral therapies, will present AFH with a $500,000 grant at BeDesign on February 7, in honor of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
“Gilead is committed to funding programs and organizations that offer much-needed services and support for communities affected by HIV,” says Darwin Thompson, Gilead’s director of corporate giving. “We are proud to support AIDS Foundation Houston, as they have shown a steadfast commitment in working to improve the health and wellness of the Houston community.”
John Huckaby, AFH’s CEO, says the Gilead grant will help the local organization expand its services that focus on those most vulnerable to healthcare inequities, with the intent of decreasing the number of new HIV diagnoses in the Greater Houston area.
“Funds will be used to expand our work inside Texas prisons, which provides vital health and prevention information as well as resources [that we make] available post-release,” Huckaby says. “The [grant] will also support increased outreach, testing, and the operations of our mobile medical unit. While AFH services are open to everyone, our HIV/STI testing programs, as well as our rapid-start antiretroviral program and PrEP care, have a heavy focus on Black and Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men, minority women of trans experience and their partners, and Black cisgender women.”
The first National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day observance in 1999 initiated a grassroots education effort to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and treatment in communities of color. The Black AIDS Institute was also created in 1999 to end HIV in Black communities.
“National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is an opportunity to amplify the disparities that African Americans face in the quest to end the HIV epidemic,” Huckaby says.
“For example, 42 percent of all new HIV cases are among African Americans, who are eight times more likely than whites to be diagnosed with HIV. The rate for African American women is 13 times that of white people. Moreover, locally, while African Americans comprise about 19 percent of the population, they account for 48.5 percent of people living with HIV.”
AFH’s outreach to the Black community includes building relationships with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). “AFH has long-standing prevention-service relationships with the two HBCUs in our area—Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University,” Huckaby says. “In 2019, AFH launched a Facebook Live show entitled Soul Talk …Conversations that Heal. The goal of Soul Talk is to create a safe space for Black queer people to have informative conversations about sexual health. Soul Talk has also partnered with local and national organizations that primarily have Black cisgender women in their membership.”
AFH also runs youth programs and the Stone Soup Food Pantry that provides food assistance for those living with HIV/AIDS.
“AFH has been a leader in the quest to end the HIV epidemic for nearly 40 years,” Huckaby says. “While we are not a healthcare provider, we offer PrEP, nPEP, and rapid-start treatment, link persons living with HIV to local healthcare services, and accompany them to ensure that they have timely access to quality care. We also understand that much of what drives healthcare outcomes happens outside the clinic walls. That’s why we work inside the prisons and jails, conduct testing campaigns at local venues, provide affordable housing to hundreds of Houstonians impacted by HIV, support our clients with food and transportation assistance, and offer mental-health services directly and through community partnerships.”