A new community program is helping African-American women embrace good health by enabling treatment of substance abuse and mental health problems that increase their risk of HIV infection or spreading the virus.
SHE PREVAILS, which is funded by a three-year, $1.6 million grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, begins with screenings in community centers such as St. Stephens Ministry and Harrisburg Family Health Care Inc., said Dr. Lara Stepleman, psychologist at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University.
“We want to help women become empowered to take care of their sexual health, to protect themselves, to negotiate complex relationships,” Stepleman said. “The idea behind all of this it to help reduce HIV spread.”
Screening and referral will occur for 1,600 women in 15 nearby counties. Then 280 women, whose problems include substance abuse, will receive a six-month comprehensive follow-up that guides them through effective treatment, said Stepleman, the program’s Director.
“If you are not treating substance abuse and you are uninfected, you are at risk for making poor choices that could get you infected and, if you are infected and untreated, you are likely making poor choices that could infect someone else,” Stepleman said.
“We want to meet African-American women where they are and, ideally, help them get to a healthier place. So we’re building a bridge between identification of a need for treatment and willingness to get treatment,” Stepleman said.