The Potocsnak Family Division of Adolescent & Young Adult Medicine recently completed the National Library of Medicine (NLM) funded Community Education Sessions regarding HIV and PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis). These sessions have been conducted for several audiences, which varied by organizational goals, age demographics, responsiveness, and more. The Division had initially planned upon nine in person education sessions, but when COVID-19 sequestered communities and families into their homes, division staff knew we had an opportunity to shift our plan.
With quick response from staff, we successfully held 14 educational sessions, all virtually, with a total attendance of 96 parents, caregivers, and youth workers. All these sessions have one common sentiment expressed by the participants: any sexual health education they’d had in their own youth was generally fear-based and inadequate, with an inordinate focus on perpetuating the stigma around teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. While a handful of attendees have recalled instances of affirming conversations, the common themes that came up when we asked groups about their memories of sexual health education were fear, negativity, and inadequate information. It is not surprising, then, that several attendees were excited to both watch the Never Fear Talks videos, in which youth have open, informative, and positive conversations with adults in their life about sexual health topics, and to receive up-to-date and accurate information on the above topics, which was new to many of them.
Among the information that attendees expressed curiosity about were, the most notable were PrEP, PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis), and the concept of "Undetectable = Untransmittable.” PrEP and PEP are both HIV prevention strategies that warrant wider public health education, and the groups we conducted our sessions for were enthused to learn. Despite widespread publicity campaigns, especially around PrEP, our sessions seemed to indicate that public health education around these prevention measures need to be disseminated more widely and comprehensively. Sessions showed that knowledge of PrEP increased by up to 9%.
Given that many attendees at our sessions were adults, many of whom shared experiences of sex education rooted in fear, it is not surprising that perceptions of HIV remain rooted in the panic and hopelessness associated with the HIV epidemic in the eighties and nineties. The fact that a person living with HIV, with appropriate treatment and access to medicines, is unable to transmit the virus to anyone, including sexual partners and unborn children that they may be carrying, has therefore been welcome knowledge for attendees. Our sessions and the response to them prove that making sexual health information accessible to, affirming of, and non-judgmental for communities is a vital service.
Facilitating these education sessions with the support of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) was a significant factor in this project’s success. Access to NLM resources in the process of creating the curriculum showed the attendees that the information was accurate, but it was also digestible so that attendees would note feel overwhelmed with the information provided. As the Division closes out this program and looks back on the success of engagement, staff continue to partner with community orgs for continued dissemination of these sessions and others like it.
To view the videos mentioned above, and others created to support healthy conversations between adults and youth, check out NeverFearTalks.
To download a free copy of the HIV and PrEP resource document click here: A roadmap for talking to young people about sexual health.
For more information on HIV/AIDS and PrEP, check out the National Library of Medicine.