University Study to Increase Southside Access to HIV Medication

Ci3 received a two-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

By Stephanie Palazzolo

The University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Inquiry and Innovation (Ci3) in Sexual and Reproductive Health announced Wednesday a two-year pilot study that will increase access to an HIV-prevention medication in drugstore pharmacies in communities with high rates of STI and HIV infections.

This announcement came after the award of a two-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. Ci3 is a faculty-led initiative at the University focused on advancing sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice. Its newest study will focus on making pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication, which prevents HIV from establishing an infection in the body, and is recommended for those with a higher risk of HIV infection, more widely available.

Ci3’s executive director and pilot study leader, Brandon Hill, hopes that higher access to PrEP medication will help reduce the instances of STI and HIV infections in historically more at-risk areas such as Washington Park, South Shore, Woodlawn, and Englewood.

“We’ve done a lot of research on the distribution of HIV-related resources, and there tends to be more [resources] downtown and North and [there are] not as many resources on the South Side,” Hill told the Hyde Park Herald.

Hill and Ci3 are also partnering with Indiana University’s Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention (RCAP), the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, and the Indiana Minority Health Coalition to run the study. Together, their research team plans on creating a referral procedure for pharmacists and health care providers, a PrEP educational program, and PrEP education kiosks that will be placed in Walgreens stores to lessen the stigma surrounding sexual health.

“We see the stigma among people who are using the medication,” Hill said to the Hyde Park Herald. “People think it might be associated with having more sexual partners or promiscuous sexual behavior, and really most people who are using PrEP are being proactive about prevention.”

The first year of the program will focus on meeting with community representatives from neighborhoods where the kiosks are going to be placed. The kiosks will be placed in select Walgreens pharmacies in those neighborhoods next summer.