This year, to commemorate World AIDS Day, Action Wellness (formerly ActionAIDS), a Philadelphia-based nonprofit organization serving individuals living with HIV and other serious chronic illnesses since 1986, wants you to know about one of the many innovative ways it is working to bring about the next “AIDS-free” generation in Philadelphia.
The Perinatal Program at Action Wellness is a free and confidential prevention program designed to reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission (MCT) in pregnant women living with HIV. The program also supports postpartum women living with HIV in removing barriers to care and services to ensure their babies have a healthy start in life. Located at 36th and Market Streets in University City, the Perinatal Program is convenient to public transportation and open to HIV+ expecting and postpartum women regardless of income and insurance status.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now regards HIV as a chronic condition; however, the prevalence of HIV within the city of Philadelphia, particularly among low income and minority residents, is a stark reminder that the virus remains highly communicable. AIDSVu.org, an organization which tracks the impact of the HIV epidemic in local communities across the United States, reported that in 2017, women accounted for nearly 30 percent of the 19,000 Philadelphians living with diagnosed HIV. Despite this, there are very few response programs within the city tailored to the needs of women living with HIV. Perinatal Program Coordinator Sara Cifuentes notes that “Action Wellness is the only agency in the city providing Perinatal Case Management services to women who are both HIV+ and pregnant. Since its inception, every single client participating in our program has given birth to an HIV-negative baby. We are experts in what we do, because we care for those who we serve.”
The Perinatal Program at Action Wellness is staffed by friendly and knowledgeable Perinatal Medical Case Managers (PMCMs) who follow clients through the length of their pregnancy and up to one year postpartum. PMCMs are specially trained professionals experienced in providing trauma-informed care and linkages to pregnant and parenting women with HIV. The program maintains a diverse and multilingual staff to ensure that all clients are assisted equitably. While engaged in the program, clients are linked to quality gynecologic/obstetric and HIV specialty care, mental health services and substance abuse treatment, as appropriate. Clients are also supported in increasing their medical adherence as a means of achieving “viral suppression.” The CDC defines viral suppression as having less than 200 copies of HIV per milliliter of blood and notes the risk of transmission of the virus during childbirth in women who have achieved viral suppression is 1 percent or less (https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/art/).
Also, clients of the program receive a wide range of additional linkages to services, which help to decrease instances of food insecurity and enable attainment of short-term employment and educational goals. Through the program’s emergency assistance pantry, clients can obtain basic emergency necessities such as infant formula, diapers and other baby supplies during times of hardship. After delivery and through the first 12-months postpartum, coordination of care continues for the family.
The Perinatal Program at Action Wellness continues to have positive results among the growing number of women it serves. Already this year, Perinatal Medical Case Managers within the program have helped more than 35 expecting moms increase their wellness and deliver HIV-negative babies.
If you or someone you know is living with HIV and expecting or has recently delivered a child, please contact Action Wellness today at 215-981-0088 to learn about the many free and confidential services available through the Perinatal Program.