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Broad Outreach Brings HIV Prevention to Diverse Populations

Staff training and community outreach efforts are at the heart of an Arizona health center’s efforts to prevent and treat HIV infections.

Mikala Balk, Quality Improvement Director at Wesley Community & Health Centers in Phoenix, said asking the right questions in the right way helps to identify patients who could benefit from PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) medication. PrEP reduces the chances of getting HIV. Untreated HIV can lead to AIDS.

Wesley has trained staff members to take a careful, non-judgmental approach to sensitive questions about sex and drug use to get a full patient history. One result is increased protection for people in high-risk groups, Balk said. “We have had a lot of patients come onto PrEP.”

Nationally, most new HIV cases occur among men who have sex with men, so a considerable number still affects other groups. Wesley staff are sensitive to the demographic situation and offer PrEP to patients who are at risk for contracting HIV, Balk said. “It’s not just for gay men.”

Wesley strives to build relationships with other non-profits. For example, Wesley staff members have worked with residents of a transitional housing program at a local YMCA, patients who use a needle exchange program, and people experiencing homelessness. Additionally, one staff member serves as a navigator for people who use PrEP and need regular lab tests as well as for patients who test positive for HIV.

Wesley makes following up with patients a key activity to get the best results, Balk said. “There’s a lot of coordination. You have to stay with the regimen.”