Black women ‘bear the burden’ of new HIV infections, ViiV Healthcare has tool that can help

ViiV Healthcare launches new Black women’s health activity books with a star-studded dinner party.

Last month, ViiV Healthcare — the only pharmaceutical company dedicated to a focus solely on combating and treating HIV in the United States — hosted R&B singers Tinashe and Baby Rose, reality TV star and drag queen Ts Madison, model Marz Lovejoy and others at a dinner party. The women drank, ate and got real about Black and brown women’s healthcare and HIV prevention. 

The intimate dinner party in New York City was held to celebrate the launch of ViiV Healthcare’s new Black women’s health and HIV prevention activity books, a series of three workbooks that Amelia Korangy wants to get into the hands of as many Black and brown women as possible.  

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ViiV Healthcare has created a new tool to help Black women and Black transgender women fight and prevent HIV. (Photo credit: Getty/Jadwiga Figula)

Korangy, ViiV Healthcare’s external affairs director of strategy and programs, told theGrio that the idea to launch the activity books with a dinner party stemmed from the tradition of women socializing in settings where they can be candid such as salons. She noted that ViiV Healthcare was also looking for a way to introduce the books and the concept of HIV prevention to an extremely at-risk demographic in a pleasurable way. 

“Food and gathering and drinks and music and art, that is pleasure,” she said. “We wanted to connect all of those sensory pleasure-based things with sexual health and wellness for Black women and these real tools that can help women get what they need around HIV prevention.”

ViiV Healthcare launched the activity books at a dinner party celebrating Black and brown women. (Photo credit: ViiV Healthcare/Sara Haile)

Korangy said the activity books, which are completely free and downloadable for anyone, are the latest offerings from ViiV Healthcare’s Risk to Reasons initiative, which launched last year and is the largest philanthropic investment dedicated to combatting HIV specifically in Black American women. 

The first book in the series is titled “Self.” Through various prompts and activities, readers are guided through self-reflections about body image, health and sexual wellness. The next book, “Intimates” is similar but geared toward fostering conversation with partners. Finally, the third book, “Providers,” empowers Black women with the tools necessary to advocate for themselves when working with care providers. 

The pages are filled with stylized shots of Black women and thoughtful quotes from notable Black women like Roxane Gay. There is zero jargon. The tone is reminiscent of a glossy women’s lifestyle magazine. The ease of the prompts makes the subject matter digestible. 

“What these workbooks do is give women the opportunity to sit around and have conversations with each other but also come home and do work,” Madison told theGrio. “In these books you have the opportunity to sit down and write letters to yourself. Learn about yourself.”

Madison, who was invited to the dinner because of her voice as an LGBTQ advocate, was impressed with how open attendees were with one another. The night, she said, was “very amazing,” especially because it brought together such a diverse group of Black and brown women.

“You don’t really get an opportunity to see that,” Madison said. “The community that we’re in shuns away from even talking about HIV and AIDS, let alone creating a workbook to help Black and brown women do homework or do work on trying to prevent it in the community.”

The sense of camaraderie created at the dinner party is something both Korangy and Madison hope the use of these books can help foster throughout the country among acquainted groups of Black women. There’s a lot at stake. “Black women bear the burden of new [HIV] diagnoses for women in the U.S.,” Korangy said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 34,800 new HIV infections in 2019, of which 14,300 were among Black people. Of that, 91% of the diagnoses were among Black women and 62% among Black transgender women. ViiV Healthcare wants to empower both groups with the skill set to fight and prevent the disease. 

“Women have reasons for HIV prevention, too. [The activity books] are a tool to help build the skills and the awareness and the comfort to get what women need,” Korangy said. 

The concept of the activity books grew out of the Black Women’s Working Group, 12 women who ViiV invited as partners to development HIV prevention initiatives. “The Black Woman’s Working Group really confirmed and encouraged us to really prioritize pleasure as a reason for HIV prevention. And so these tools — these activity books — are a product of that guidance and of that work,” she said. “They’re for Black women to build the comfort, language, skills and work sort of independently and with intimate partners and with healthcare providers to get what they need around sexual health, intimacy and HIV prevention.” 

Through content, events and funding for community action, the initiative aims to reframe traditional messaging around risk and at-risk behavior to focus more on the reasons someone would have for wanting to be HIV-free.

“When you talk about HIV prevention and care, especially for Black women … when you talk about things that are at risk or risky behavior, it turns people off,” Korangy said. “It’s scary and can be stigmatizing. People don’t see themselves at risk. So if we really wanted to help make sure that Black women are getting what they needed, we need to find a way to reframe risk.”

She noted that one way to think about risk is to focus on what matters to these women instead of what’s wrong with them. “Which are your reasons. Everyone’s got different reasons for HIV prevention,” Korangy said. “One of those reasons is pleasure, is intimacy, is sex and being able to explore all of those things while feeling protected.”  

(Photo credit: ViiV Healthcare)

The books are a part of the process, and so far have been well-received. Korangy reported getting calls from folks who have praised them. Additionally, a grant partner, who hosted HBCU students during an alternative spring break trip, used them.

Korangy disclosed that many of the books have been downloaded, but she would like to see them reach at least 10,000 downloads. “They’re fun. I think folks who are looking for resources can dive right in,” she said. “I also think folks will just pick it up, because it’s a beautiful piece of work and [won’t] be scared to give it a try.”

Kay Wicker is a lifestyle writer for theGrio covering health, wellness, travel, beauty, fashion, and the myriad ways Black people live and enjoy their lives. She has previously created content for magazines, newspapers, and digital brands. 

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