HIV

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is expanding its HIV prevention services across the Granite State, with a focus on people with substance-use disorders.

Broadening the organization’s HIV Early Intervention Services program will include efforts to increase community awareness of ways to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. It will also involve strengthening collaboration with state and local public health and social services agencies, including groups working in substance-misuse treatment and recovery, the organization said in a news release.

Planned Parenthood’s clinics offer HIV testing, education and medication, according to its website.

The recent announcement from Planned Parenthood of Northern New England came ahead of World AIDS Day Sunday. Established in 1988, the day is observed each year to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic and mourn the millions of people globally who have died because of it.

New Hampshire has some of the lowest rates of HIV in the nation — 22 adults were diagnosed in 2015, according to the latest data available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the opioid crisis has hit the state particularly hard, and drug use typically leaves people more vulnerable to the virus.

“Those at high risk for substance-use disorders — especially through intravenous substance use — are also at higher risk of contracting or spreading HIV/AIDS and other STDs,” said Derek Edry, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

The recently announced initiative focuses on New Hampshire, he said, to keep these numbers low.

“Regardless of how many people have HIV/AIDS, prevention and early intervention is fundamental to achieving better public health outcomes,” Edry said.

Information about the total cost of the initiative and how it’s being funded wasn’t immediately available from Edry Monday afternoon.

Breakthroughs beg for awareness

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), spread primarily through sex or sharing needles, attacks cells that help the body fight infection, making a person more susceptible to other infections.

HIV has no effective cure, but with treatment, it’s no longer the death sentence it once was. Medication can be taken to prevent the virus from spreading within the body; help people lead longer, healthier lives; and also reduce the risk of contracting HIV in the first place.

If left untreated, however, HIV can lead to AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which remains a deadly disease.

As part of its expanded HIV Early Intervention Services program, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is focused on raising awareness of these medications, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

This pill is used daily by people at very high risk of getting HIV to prevent the infection, according to Planned Parenthood’s website.

High-risk groups include those who use intravenous drugs, those who don’t use condoms during sex, have sex with multiple partners or who’ve recently had another STD.

As part of its awareness initiative, Planned Parenthood will dispense information about HIV prevention on multiple platforms, such as social media, dating sites and through targeted advertisements.

As for the increased collaboration with the public health and social services sectors, Edry said Planned Parenthood will be working with a handful of agencies in the greater Keene area, but the organization hasn’t yet specified which ones.

More information about HIV and AIDS prevention is available at plannedparenthood.org. Keene’s Planned Parenthood clinic, the Keene Health Center, is at 8 Middle St. and can be reached at 352-6898 or https://bit.ly/2P7sc3x.

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.