Access to Virtual HIV Prevention, HIV care and Gender Affirming Care in Rural Areas Expands

May 2, 2021
Briana Contreras

Improvements in prevention toward HIV is starting in Texas through Texas Health Action. The health organization is creating a virtual HIV prevention service available toward HIV care and gender affirming care in rural areas.

Texas Health Action (THA) is launching a statewide telehealth service that provides access to HIV prevention and care and gender affirming care at little to no cost to patients.

TeleKind, the new service, allows any Texas resident 18 years and older to access comprehensive sexual health services regardless of gender identity, gender expression, race, creed, sexual orientation, immigration status, or ability to pay.

Virtual appointments can be made through secure, two-way video with a healthcare provider specializing in each of the services offered. Patients are also assigned a personal care navigator to help guide them through the appointment process, care plans and options for at-home testing kits and direct-to-patient prescription delivery.

The clinical services offered are free while all prescriptions are secured at little to no cost. Patients can access appointments, testing and medication here at https://www.mytelekind.org/sign-up/.

According to a 2017 study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, those in rural communities were found to have a higher risk of health complications and limited access to health services. It even found these individuals were unable to see a physician in the past 12 months because of cost.

"Some Texans are being left behind from critical sexual health care like HIV/STI prevention and treatment, especially those in areas without clinics that specialize in judgement-free sexual health services," Christopher Hamilton, chief executive officer of Texas Health Action, said in a news release. "Our approach to healthcare is radical in its simplicity: we prioritize kindness and innovation to meet our patients where they are."

Megan Brunson, chief operating officer of Texas Health Action, said in the release, many nonprofit organizations and public entities have been unable to meet the growing demand for testing and treatment of HIV and STIs because already limited resources have been diverted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"However, we have prioritized investment in our innovative and accessible approach to providing sexual health services to close the gap for those who need it most, including those in rural areas of our state as well as underserved communities such as Black, Latinx, Transgender and gender non-conforming Texans," Brunson said.

According to a report from the CDC, there is particularly a pressing need for scaled-up HIV prevention and care strategies for transgender women.

Interviews conducted in 2019 through early 2020 with 1,608 transgender women living in Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle found that 42% of respondents with a valid HIV test result had HIV, the report shared.

It was found 62% of Black transgender women and 35% of Hispanic/Latina transgender women had HIV, compared to 17% of white transgender women. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of the women surveyed lived at or below the poverty level, and 42% had experienced homelessness in the past 12 months.

“These data provide a clear and compelling picture of the severe toll of HIV among transgender women and the social and economic factors — including systemic racism and transphobia — that are contributing to this unacceptable burden,” said Demetre Daskalakis, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention. “Reducing HIV in these communities will require that public health and other providers of social and prevention services design innovative and comprehensive status-neutral solutions to overcome barriers to whole person prevention and care.