Health Department Launches City’s First-Ever Campaign Promoting HIV Prevention Medication among Women

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a safe, daily pill that reduces the risk of HIV infection

In 2016, only 21 percent of sexually active Black and/or Latina women in New York City were aware of PrEP, compared to 85 percent of men who have sex with men

“Living Sure” is the latest in a series of citywide, sex-positive campaigns related to sexual health

March 6, 2018 – The Health Department today launched “Living Sure,” a new sexual health marketing campaign that encourages women, including cisgender and transgender women, to consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as part of their sexual health plan. PrEP is a safe, daily pill that greatly reduces the risk of HIV infection. HIV Prevention Medication among WomenIn 2016, despite reaching a record-low number of new HIV diagnoses in New York City, there was a 5 percent increase in new diagnoses among women compared to 2015, and Black and Latina women made up over 90 percent of all women who were newly diagnosed. In 2016, only 21 percent of sexually active Black and/or Latina women in New York City were aware of PrEP, compared to 85 percent of gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. A recent study of over 600 ambulatory care practices in New York City found that, while PrEP prescribing rates increased 976 percent from 2014 to 2016, a majority of those prescriptions were written for men. In mid-2016, women received only 5 percent of PrEP prescriptions. These data suggest disparities, given that over 20 percent of new HIV diagnoses in New York City were among women in 2016. Too few women know about PrEP, and far fewer are taking it.

The Health Department’s Women’s Advisory Board – a group of women leaders from the community with a focus on improving HIV prevention, care, and treatment for women in New York City – contributed to the development of “Living Sure.” The campaign will appear in local newspapers, subway cars, subway stations, buses, and bus shelters across the city, as well as on social media. The Health Department unveiled the campaign today at Planned Parenthood of NYC’s Diane L. Max Health Center in Long Island City, Queens. To find PrEP, New Yorkers can speak with their health care provider, call 311, or visit the NYC Health Map to find a provider.

“While we have made historic progress in reducing HIV diagnoses in this city, we will not rest until that progress is felt equally in every community,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “PrEP has proven to be an essential part of a sexual health plan, and raising awareness among women will push us closer to finally ending this epidemic. We pride ourselves as a city that has led the way in groundbreaking and inclusive awareness campaigns, and ‘Living Sure’ reinforces our belief that all New Yorkers deserve healthy and happy sex lives.”

HIV Prevention Medication among WomenThe “Living Sure” campaign is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Ending the Epidemic (EtE) plan, which aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2020 in New York City and includes a $23 million investment to reduce the number of new HIV infections and ensure a strong infrastructure for sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention. Last year, the Health Department announced that 2,279 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2016, down 8.6 percent from 2015 and representing an all-time time low since HIV reporting began in 2001. Since Mayor de Blasio announced EtE in 2015, the City expanded clinical services and hours of operations at its Sexual Health Clinics, in addition to offering PrEP initiation and linkage to care for patients.

“PrEP has been shown to be highly effective in preventing HIV, but awareness and uptake among women has remained low,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Disease Control. “We hope that the ‘Living Sure’ campaign can help change this local and national trend with the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in all populations in New York City.”

“As a physician and researcher who has worked to increase PrEP use among women, I’m thrilled to have joined the Health Department as it launches the ‘Living Sure’ campaign, which will spread the word to women about this empowering HIV prevention tool,” said Dr. Oni Blackstock, Assistant Commissioner for the Bureau of HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control.

“When it comes to combating HIV, it is important to use every tool available,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “That’s why it is important to raise awareness about PrEP and its effectiveness in reducing the risk of HIV infection. The Health Department, led by Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett, deserves to be commended for spearheading the ‘Living Sure’ campaign, a vital public awareness initiative.”

“It is critical that we use every tool at our disposal to prevent new HIV diagnosis in our City and PrEP has proven to be highly effective at reducing the risk of infection. This campaign aims to make sure that women are more informed about the resources at their disposal to protect their health,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I thank the Department of Health and Commissioner Bassett for working to ensure that women are empowered to make informed decision to lead healthy sex lives.” 

“Ending the HIV epidemic is important work and I am proud to join my colleagues in City government today as we continue to advance efforts to reduce the transmission of HIV,” said New York City Council Member Van Bramer. “The Living Sure campaign is an important next step to reaching populations that are at risk for infection but who are not yet familiar with PrEP and its benefits. We are living in a time where not one more person needs to be diagnosed with HIV and I’ll keep fighting to make that a reality.”

“There are many elements to ensuring HIV prevention tools are accessible to people who need them most, and chief among them is a resounding and direct message that PrEP is an option for women, specifically women of color,” said Marcella Tillett, Vice President of Project Street Beat, Planned Parenthood of NYC and Member of the Women’s Advisory Board. “This beautiful and powerful campaign comes at a critical moment in our efforts to end the epidemic. As we grapple with HIV infection rates among Black and Latina women, it is our responsibility to ensure women have access to PrEP and understand that this is an option that is effective for them and should be in their HIV prevention toolkit.”

“As Community Chair of the Health Department’s Women’s Advisory Board, I feel strongly that a new sexual health marketing campaign encouraging women of all gender expressions to consider PrEP as part of their sexual health plan is a must,” said Deborah Levine, Senior Managing Director of Love Heals Youth Initiative at ACRIA at GMHC and Member of the Women’s Advisory Board. “Every woman – especially cisgender and trans women of color – must know about all HIV prevention options and be able to choose what prevention tools make them feel safe and comfortable. Linking women to PrEP helps us get one step closer to ending the epidemic in New York City and New York State by 2020.”

“Making PrEP available for women will encourage self-awareness and effective communication with sexual partners, and will give women the power to take part in the sexual health revolution by putting PrEP in their step,” said Wendy Ledesma, HIV Prevention Clinic Coordinator at the LGBT Community Center and Member of the Women’s Advisory Board.

“HIV doesn’t discriminate and neither should its prevention methods. Women from all walks of life – queer and straight, cis and trans – should have access to the same information and prevention options as everyone else,” said Wendy Stark, Executive Director at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, a federally-qualified health center serving the LGBTQ community regardless of ability to pay. “We applaud the Health Department for creating an inclusive outreach campaign that puts all women at the forefront.”

“Ending the epidemic requires providing everyone at risk with all of the tools currently available,” said Therese R. Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer at APICHA Community Health Center. “Educating the women of New York City about their HIV risk is imperative. In light of this exciting opportunity to reach out to these vulnerable populations, this campaign not only addresses the impact of the epidemic on African-American and Latina women, but also addresses the Asian and Pacific Islander women who are experiencing a spike in new infections. Public awareness makes it easier for medical providers to connect people with the services necessary to end HIV/AIDS – inclusion serves the whole!”

“Women are under the false assumption that they are not at risk for HIV and that PrEP is only for men who have sex with men. Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum, Executive Director of the HEAT Program at SUNY Downstate. “They don't always know what HIV risks their partners have been exposed to in the past, what their partner's HIV status is, or if their partners are being faithful. Women need to consider HIV risks and consider taking PrEP no less than other groups of people at risk for HIV."

Increasing PrEP Awareness and Use among Women in New York City

“Living Sure” is the latest Health Department initiative aimed at increasing PrEP awareness and use among women. Last July, the Health Department sent a letter to providers reminding them to identify women at risk of exposure to HIV, and encourage them to consider PrEP. This summer, the Health Department will launch a PrEP and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) detailing campaign focused on women’s health care providers, consisting of one-on-one educational visits to practices. Data collected from previous PrEP and PEP detailing campaigns suggest that the intervention has been successful at reaching and influencing providers throughout New York City.

The Women’s Advisory Board

The Health Department convened the Women’s Advisory Board in January 2017 to address issues related to HIV and women’s health in New York City. Membership primarily consists of women in HIV/AIDS service organizations across the city, and the Board has made efforts to include other organizations serving women around issues such as domestic violence, substance use and recovery, reproductive health, and immigrant health. The Board hosted a Women’s Health and Activism Summit last March, and a second Summit will take place later this month.

Sexual Health Clinics

The City’s eight Sexual Health Clinics provide low- to no-cost sexual health services, including STI testing and treatment, HIV testing, emergency contraception, vaccinations, and counseling services. Last year, the City expanded clinical services and hours of operations at its Sexual Health Clinics. Anyone 12 years and older who wants testing for HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or syphilis can receive these services at the clinics, even if they have no symptoms. In addition, the Health Department recently launched several new programs at the clinics, including HIV PrEP initiation and PEP for people at high risk of HIV exposure; the JumpstART program, which provides onsite antiretroviral treatment initiation and linkage to care for patients newly diagnosed with HIV; and quick start contraception with linkage to care for patients at highest risk of unintended pregnancy.

#PlaySure Kit

In December 2015, the Health Department launched Play Sure – a novel health marketing campaign to prevent HIV and other STIs, followed by Stay Sure in 2016. The goal of these sex-positive campaigns is to reach all New Yorkers and encourage them to choose their preferred tools to prevent HIV and other STIs, regardless of their HIV status. To complement these efforts, the Health Department developed the #PlaySure Kit, an innovative safer sex toolkit designed to hold everything New Yorkers need to play sure, such as condoms, lube, and the prevention pills of their choice (e.g., PrEP, PEP, or HIV medications). Since the #PlaySure Kit was unveiled on World AIDS Day 2015, over 148,000 have been distributed. The kit helps New Yorkers design a safer sex plan that fits their lifestyles and needs. #PlaySure Kits are available for free at the City’s Sexual Health Clinics as well as at participating community-based organizations and community events throughout the year. Distribution locations are also available by calling 311.



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