Still Climbin’ Study Explores HIV Treatment Disparities Among HIV+ Black Men

Inequality in the healthcare system is a daily reality for many living with HIV or AIDS, and black men are among the hardest hit by this inequality. The Fenway Institute is partnering with Boston Children’s Hospital and the Multicultural AIDS Coalition on a study called “Still Climbin’: Addressing Discrimination and Mistrust Among Black Men Living with HIV.” The study, which is funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, is developing and pilot testing a 9-week group intervention that will improve the coping responses of HIV-positive black men who have sex with men (MSM).

“Black MSM living with HIV are less like to be engaged in care and to adhere to antiretroviral treatment compared to other groups,” said Laura Bogart, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School and Research Director, Division of General Pediatrics, Boston Children’s Hospital. Bogart is the Principal Investigator for Still Climbin’.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 52% of HIV diagnoses in 2006-2009 were among black people, though this demographic only makes up 14% of the U.S. population. Black MSM show particularly high rates of HIV-transmission, accounting for roughly 40% of HIV diagnoses among MSM of all races and ethnicities, and one-third of diagnoses among men of all groups. Research has shown that Black HIV-positive individuals are less likely to be diagnosed, to be engaged in care, and to receive or adhere to ART than White HIV-positive individuals.

“My prior research suggests that the stress of discrimination due to being Black, positive, and a sexual minority may be contributing to these kinds of health disparities,” Bogart said. “We decided to address these issues in an intervention that can be done in the context of existing support groups in local ASOs [AIDS service organizations], in order to improve coping responses to discrimination.”

“While we recognize that ultimately societal level interventions and policy changes are needed to combat discrimination, our intervention provides a safe space for men to discuss the discrimination and stigma that they have experienced,” she added.

The intervention process includes eight two-hour weekly sessions and a final graduation session. These sessions are led by a mental health professional and a peer facilitator and incorporate Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques. During the sessions, participants explore and discuss their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that occur after they experience discrimination. Participants are compensated up to $130 for participation, dependent upon completion of surveys and session attendance.

If you are interested in participating in the study, please call Kinjal at 857.218.4077 for an eligibility screener or click here. Still Climbin’ participants must be 18 or older, HIV-positive, MSM, and identify as black or African-American.

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