South Florida continues to be an epicenter for new HIV/AIDS infections.
Now a new partnership between Walgreens and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine (UM) hopes to make a dent.
The pairing marks the first-in-the-nation concept to bring HIV prevention information to one of the places it’s needed most. UM’s new clinic will be at Walgreens in the heart of South Beach.
“UM had a clinic at Walgreens before but it closed,” Dr. Mario Stevenson said. “So we approached Walgreens with the proposal of setting up an HIV prevention clinic there and they were excited about it because of its community impact.”
As the director of the school’s Institute AIDS and Emerging Infectious Diseases, he’s well aware of how dire the situation is.
“We already had a presence in Miami Beach. We have a mobile HIV prevention clinic Rapid Access Wellness [RAW] Clinic that parks at the Gaythering Hotel each week and distributes HIV prevention tools such as PrEP. We were at capacity and realized we needed more facilities to meet the demand for HIV prevention services.”
The location is at 1669 N. Collins in Miami Beach. Stevenson said the doors are open to everyone.
“We work with the uninsured, those who don’t have visas. No one is denied access to HIV prevention services.”
One of the key goals is to get people to know their status. About one-in-seven HIV infections are undocumented. People who test negative can be signed up for PrEP while those that test positive can be put in touch with physicians and organizations to get them treatment. Dr. Stevenson hopes to expand the program, but said starting in South Beach was the logical choice.
“That is now the location where there is the highest number of new infections occurring. HIV infection rates on Miami Beach are approaching that of Sub-Saharan Africa. If the mission of UM is to have an impact on the health and well-being of people in our community, I can think of no better way to do that than to get PrEP into a community where new HIV infections are exploding.”
Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis is the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at UM, and said new clients are made to feel comfortable and cared for.
“We have a wonderful team of navigators who will walk new clients through the process. The process almost always starts with an HIV test, and frequently with STI testing as well. If an HIV test is positive, we work with that person to take the first steps to get on to antiviral therapy as soon as possible, most of the time this can happen within a few hours. And then we work with them until they are well established in care. For people that test negative, we will discuss options including PrEP and if interested we will start that process right away as well. The process for PrEP involves an assessment by a medical provider, STI and HIV testing and some monitoring labs, and counseling regarding how to take the medication. Once these things are done, a prescription is usually written right away.”
UM’s goal is that this will become a new model for reaching people who aren’t easily reached.
“We hope this is a model program, and hope that we can demonstrate how locating services like PrEP outside of traditional clinics, including in-pharmacy clinics and mobile clinics, can really help to increase access. Our program is always looking for ways to innovate to increase access to these services.”