This year marks the 33rd annual World AIDS Day, a time to honor and remember those we have lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and advocate for those living with and at risk of contracting HIV. As we continue to battle COVID-19, we are reminded that HIV/AIDS is also still very much a public health crisis, as our Dr. Kenneth Mayer outlined in a new Boston Globe op-ed.
During the darkest days of the epidemic, AIDS ravaged underserved communities that already faced discrimination from systems of power – including health care. LGBTQIA+ people, BIPOC individuals, people who used injection drugs, sex workers, and those experiencing homelessness were all too often met with bigotry from the institutions that were supposed to be offering comfort.
Fenway Health was one of the few health care facilities at the time treating patients with dignity and respect instead of fear. In fact, the first HIV diagnosis in New England was made right here at Fenway Health in 1981.
Since then, Fenway Health has become New England’s largest provider of outpatient HIV related care—regardless of a patient’s ability to pay. Today, people who inject drugs are one of the highest risk populations for contracting HIV. While HIV infections had been on the decline for much of the 2000’s, cases have been on the rise, as evidenced by recent outbreaks in Lawrence, Lowell, and Boston.
Our public health program is working to reverse this trend. About a year ago, a team led by Dr. Julia Fleming began offering a free twice-per-week medical clinic at our Green Street location in Cambridge. This location serves a highly vulnerable population of unhoused individuals and people who inject drugs.
Here, we meet our clients where they are by providing essential primary care and prevention services. Our medical clinic has expanded on the harm reduction services offered at Green Street to bring lifesaving substance use treatment, infectious disease diagnosis, treatment of HIV and Hepatitis-C, and more to our most vulnerable clients in a welcoming, stigma-free environment.
Thanks to their hard work and dedication, the team at Green Street has been able to quickly ramp up HIV prevention services – even starting over 15 patients on PrEP. Additionally, they have more than 10 patients who have completed or are currently undergoing Hepatitis C treatment.
Our goal in the coming year is to expand our outreach program to bring mobile health services to those community members who are unhoused and have been unable to access care through our onsite initiatives.
We are incredibly proud of the team at Green Street and of all our staff that work every day to ensure that all our patients and clients have access to lifesaving care that meets them where they are. Thanks to them, Fenway Health continues to offer a hope for vulnerable communities – and for the future.