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UR Nursing Research to Explore Sexual Health, HIV Prevention for Women of Color

  By Gianluca D'Elia
  Friday, May 26, 2023

Natalie Leblanc, PhD, MPH, RN, BSN

Innovation in HIV prevention and treatment have reached new heights, but there remains a need to better understand the optimization and uptake of HIV biomedical interventions among communities who are most disproportionately affected by it. A new pair of University of Rochester School of Nursing studies will explore this subject, with a focus on Black, Hispanic and Latine women in New York and Florida.

The two-year multi-study, led by Assistant Professor and Chair of the School of Nursing’s Interdisciplinary Sexual Health HIV Research (INSHHR) Group Natalie Leblanc, PhD, MPH, RN, BSN, contains two projects. One will focus on Black, cisgender women residing in New York State who are long-time survivors living with HIV. The project seeks their perspectives and determinants of use of long acting injectable HIV treatments, especially among those who are heavily treatment-experienced. The second is focused on Black, Hispanic and Latine transgender women and their intimate partners in New York and Florida, and perspectives and determinants of uptake for pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP) medication.

Both studies will explore sexual health promotion among both groups of women, and will assess how biomedical strategies and interventions fit or have potential in the sexual health of women who disproportionately experience adverse outcomes across the HIV prevention and care continuums.

The multi-study has received an award of more than $428,000 from Gilead Sciences, Inc., a major leader in the research and development of antiviral drugs to treat HIV/AIDS.

“In my years of public health, nursing, and research experience, I know that the mere existence of biomedical interventions is not enough for uptake, and pathologizing people and their behaviors cultivates stigma, which remains a barrier to ending the epidemic,” said Leblanc, who is also a Harriet J. Kitzman Endowed Fellow in Health Disparities at the School of Nursing.

“How HIV biomedical interventions are conceptualized, understood, and integrated into the lives of people disproportionately susceptible to or living with HIV, requires investigation in order to ensure strategies are salient," she said.

The study’s focus on Black, Hispanic and Latine women — both cisgender and transgender (the femme continuum) — is particularly important. HIV affects African American heterosexual women more than women of any other race and ethnicity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2021 CDC report, one of the most comprehensive surveys of transgender women in the U.S. to date, revealed that nearly two-thirds of Black transgender women and more than one-third of Hispanic and Latina transgender women interviewed had HIV.

“Black and Latine cis and trans women are least likely to benefit from evidence-based interventions due to historical, social, and systemic anti-Black racism, anti-femme stigma, and policy that is not entirely supportive of health promotion for diverse populations,” Leblanc explained.

The study will also include clinical health care providers, their experiences with patients, and engagement in biomedical interventions, including PrEP and long-acting HIV medication.

Researchers are currently meeting with a community advisory council for both studies, and will begin to recruit soon.

Learn more about research at the School of Nursing here.

Categories: Research

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