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Ahonkhai advances in national challenge to improve HIV care for Black men in Tennessee

Feb. 24, 2022, 10:39 AM

 

Holly Fletcher

A proposal to implement a novel strategy to use barbers and barbershops to improve HIV care outcomes for Black men with HIV in Middle Tennessee received early-stage funding from a challenge hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health.

Aimalohi Ahonkhai, MD, MPH

The proposal led by Aima Ahonkhai, MD, MPH, assistant professor of Medicine and a core faculty member of the Vanderbilt Global Health Institute, is among 15 winners in the first phase of The HIV Challenge, a national competition seeking innovative approaches to reduce HIV-related stigma and increase prevention and treatment among minority communities. Ahonkhai’s team, which is partnering with Nashville nonprofit Streetworks LLC, received $20,000 and will advance to the second phase of the national challenge.

“Our partnership with Streetworks and barbers in Middle Tennessee has been one of the most motivating research experiences I have had. Our community partners and the barbers themselves have helped me and my team to think outside of the box to meet the needs of young Black men living with HIV in our region, and I am very excited that the HIV challenge will allow me to explore and test these novel ideas,” said Ahonkhai.

Streetworks (SW) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1997 with a mission to provide care and support services for those infected and affected through outreach, education and advocacy in communities of greatest risk. Understanding that Black men go to barbershops to exchange information in addition to getting haircuts, SW has been a local leader in promoting barbershop-based health outreach for HIV prevention, visiting barbershops to distribute free condoms and education about HIV prevention, and exchanging haircuts for free HIV testing in some venues.

In 2021, Ahonkhai along with Leslie Pierce, MPH, and colleagues found that Black males overall, and young, heterosexually active Black males in particular, were least likely to establish HIV care within one month of diagnosis. Minimizing the time from HIV diagnosis to establishing care in an HIV clinic is a public health priority for control of HIV transmission.

The HIV Challenge provides an opportunity for individuals and organizations to develop novel, innovative approaches for implementation within their local communities. It consists of three phases for concept design, approach development, and refinement with small-scale testing.

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