Philadelphia FIGHT has been working to provide outreach and care to the HIV/AIDS community throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At press time, the number of cases in Philadelphia was 20,132, with 1,049 deaths. The number of new cases has slowly begun to plateau due to stay at home orders and social distancing, but 619 patients with COVID-19 are currently being treated in Philadelphia hospitals.
As Gov. Tom Wolf has eased certain restrictions on the state shutdown, the Y-HEP Health Center at Philadelphia FIGHT is again offering gender-affirming care and services, including telehealth, for new patients.
The Y-HEP Health Center offers an inclusive, trauma-informed, gender-affirming approach to healthcare for adolescents and young adults (ages 13-24), providing access to comprehensive primary care, sexual and reproductive health services, integrated behavioral health, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV), and other relevant social services that aim to address the social determinants of health.
Y-HEP re-opened services to new patients on May 18, and there is currently no waitlist for youth ages 18-24. People under the age of 18 may be seen for HRT in certain circumstances and are encouraged to call to make appointments to discuss their needs.
Philadelphia FIGHT has maintained a vigilant link to the community, offering weekly updates. The organization has a special page for COVID-19 updates and notes, “Philadelphia FIGHT is committed to keeping all of our patients safe during the Coronavirus outbreak. As the outbreak has intensified, we have made some changes to keep everyone safe.”
Philadelphia FIGHT was founded in 1990 and has led the city on AIDS education and outreach throughout its 30 years. The AIDS organization is making the current pandemic both part of its immediate outreach and recognizing that the coronavirus will be part of daily life for some time.
That new normal has driven the organization to offer the city its first virtual conference on AIDS prevention and education beginning June 1.
In describing a 2020 vision for the AIDS community, FIGHT describes the urgency and necessity of altering approaches to access and care, succinctly and poignantly.
“Covid-19 has been a glaring example of the necessity of mutual aid, community voice, and transformative healing in our communities. The historic context of these practices and current implementation all live in the people.”
Philadelphia FIGHT added, “We know now more than ever that we must activate a cultural change in health services that removes the barriers to ownership of your health. Positioning leaders in the work who represent the population that they are servicing is a strong and effective first step that can lead to a wellness ecosystem that can be a route to individual liberation.”
Accessing that “wellness ecosystem” entails education and what may require a new approach to both outreach and care.
Historically, AIDS Education Month (AEM) has been a series of free events throughout Philadelphia to increase AIDS awareness and to bring people together to find strategies to combat the virus during the month of June. But now, Philadelphia FIGHT will present the HIV Prevention and Education Conference in a virtual setting, in honor of AIDS Education Month. Sponsors, including Gilead, Mazzoni Center, Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, BEAT HIV and others, have made the event possible.
The theme of this year’s summit is “Continuing the Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic.” The month-long series of webinars will discuss the importance of HIV treatment and justice against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 10,000 individuals are directly reached by Philadelphia FIGHT’s efforts every June, during AIDS Education Month, which FIGHT has been presenting since 1994.
“We’ve been through pandemics before,” said FIGHT Chief Executive Officer Jane Shull. “It was the union of community members, activists, service providers and medical professionals that have gotten us through the HIV epidemic. A virtual summit will allow us to reach even more people, as we look to our past for solutions to get through this current COVID-19 crisis.”
Shull explains that “the HIV Prevention and Education Summit, the signature event of AIDS Education Month, aims to provide the latest information on research, evidence-based HIV prevention, outreach strategies and best practices in targeting and connecting the most at-risk groups in Philadelphia to care, and to bring people together to find strategies to combat the virus.”
Featured workshops for the conference will include, Covid-19 & HIV, Oncology and HIV, Youth Central, sexual health education activities for teens and young adults. There will also be a workshop on destigmatizing sex work and one on developing a women-focused PrEP intervention for HIV prevention. There are several webinars on pregnancy and HIV. Another focuses on “raising up the voices of LGBT health consumers to remove barriers to care.”
Some webinars highlight the special needs of elders with regard to medical care and HIV, as the HIV population begins to age.
There is even a webinar on HIV Surveillance, the Census and voting, which will discuss how “marginalized communities who do not have economic and social access have always been left out of plans of redistributing goods and services in their impoverished communities.”
The conference reflects the changing face of HIV/AIDS, featuring majority women, men of color and LGBTQ people as presenters.
The full listing of webinars is available on the AIDS Education Month website. To register for events or for more information, visit www.aidseducationmonth.org. All webinars are free and Continuing Education Credits (CEU’s) for licensed professionals are available. For more information, contact Philadelphia FIGHT at [email protected]. Contact Y-HEP at (215) 344-1632.
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