As the senior director of health and evaluation at OUTMemphis, it is my duty to ensure the health and wellness of our local LGBTQ+ community. Earlier this year, we expanded our health program to include six tiers of health and wellness priorities for LGBTQ+ individuals: sexual health, mental health, substance use, intimate partner violence, physical health, and spiritual health. Public health is a pivotal part of my academic, professional, and personal repertoire. To be both a leader and a provider, preparedness, research, and the implementation of effective interventions will drive our support of the health of our community. Due to the recent pandemic of the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, our staff and programs are following all necessary measure to protect our community members, especially those who may pose a higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified the following high-risk groups: people over the age of 60 and those individuals who have serious chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, respiratory diseases, and HIV. The risk of COVID-19 is likely greater for people living with HIV who have a low CD4 count or do not have full viral suppression on antiretrovirals. Thus, people with HIV who have a low CD4 count and those individuals who are unaware of their HIV status are at-risk populations for contracting COVID-19 and facing more serious health issues. People living with HIV who are unaware of their HIV status may not seek interventions such as HIV testing because of the following conditions: stigma related to HIV testing, lack of healthcare, housing and job insecurity, low perception of HIV risk, poor transportation options, and more. As a result, it is imperative that OUTMemphis does its due diligence to implement effective strategies and protocols; such as, social distancing, postponing all group activities, and continuing direct services by appointment or during specific days and hours to better serve populations who are most at risk. In addition to our work with seniors, trans individuals, and youth experiencing homelessness, people living with HIV/AIDS are given priority access to our free food and hygiene supplies, available at 892 S. Cooper, Monday through Thursday, for the duration of the pandemic. Free condoms are also available during that time.
As we considered the risks and barriers for community members unaware of their HIV status, we knew that continuing our free HIV testing (Monday and Wednesday evenings, 6pm-9pm) would be essential during this time. Now more than ever, we are committed to identifying newly diagnosed community members and linking them to care as soon as possible. In times of hardship and uncertainty for many of our community members, mental health is put to the test and pushed to its limits. Thus, often times, unhealthy behaviors such as intimate partner violence, substance use, and at-risk sexual activities are the potential consequences of community members attempting to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, OUTMemphis and community resources such as the spirituality discussion group (H.O.PE.), the LGBTQ+ Alcohol Anonymous group (Pride and Principles), Love Doesn’t Hurt, and other resources are imperative for our community’s overall health and wellness.
I hope that our local LGBTQ+ community and its allies understand that in these times, we must prioritize the health and safety of our entire family, and to do so means hard work and commitment. Public health is everybody’s business. OUTMemphis intends to continue our business of ensuring the health and wellness of our local LGBTQ+ community.