Walgreens launches HIV prevention initiative

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Company offering a number of resources.

DEERFIELD, Ill. — While rates of HIV in the U.S. have decreased, the epidemic is far from over. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have faced barriers to HIV testing, prevention and treatment. Recognizing that everyone can be part of the solution, Walgreens and its partners have come together to increase awareness about HIV, including understanding how to prevent HIV through the use of tools like PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).

Brad McElya

Walgreens has supported people living with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic years ago. With HIV-trained pharmacists in communities across the nation, Walgreens pharmacies are offering compassionate, confidential HIV care, including counseling on prevention options and how to qualify for programs like Ready, Set, PrEP, a nationwide effort led by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). These confidential discussions with a pharmacist can take place in private rooms in stores, by phone and online via Pharmacy Chat. This HIV awareness effort, which launched in mid-February, is not over until April.

“Walgreens has been part of ending the HIV epidemic ever since the beginning. We have taken it upon ourselves to really be a leader in this space. With our specially trained pharmacists in communities across the nation, we can uniquely support HIV testing, education and care, working towards ending the epidemic,” says Brad McElya, director of specialty health solutions at Walgreens.

He notes that Walgreens recognizes that everyone can be part of the solution, so the company works together with its partners to encourage anyone at risk for HIV to reach out to their local Walgreens pharmacist to discuss their options.

He notes that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have faced barriers to HIV testing, prevention and treatment. We want to make sure that we’re not losing sight of ending the HIV epidemic while we’re in the middle of fighting a pandemic. We believe patients, now more than ever, need our services. They need to have that accessible pharmacist. With approximately 78% of Americans living within five miles of a Walgreens, we are uniquely positioned to provide confidential counseling, assist patients in learning about PrEP and to help those already living with HIV stay in treatment.”

McElya points out that one in seven people living with HIV do not know they have it, so HIV testing is crucial. “Last May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) talked about how some of the HIV testing rates were down across the country, and that is alarming. If an individual does not know their HIV status, then they can’t get into treatment or use some of the preventative medications, either.”

He adds that HIV testing is extremely important and Walgreens is deeply committed to helping individuals learn their HIV status. “To give you a recent example, in 2020, Walgreens and our partner, Greater Than AIDS, changed how we approached National HIV Testing Day. Typically we host in-person testing events, but with the COVID-19 pandemic we needed to meet people and community-based organizations that are a part of Greater Than AIDS where they are. We distributed over 10,000 self-test kits so that patients could still be aware of their HIV status and receive information about Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and learn more about the Ready, Set, PrEP program.”

He adds that pharmacists play a critical role in providing health care to communities across the country. “Being a pharmacist myself, I take great pride in the relationships that I’ve built with patients, including talking about HIV treatment and prevention, which has been key to really making an impact on patients’ lives.”

McElya says that when it comes to that accessibility it’s really two elements. “One is our nationwide footprint. Our pharmacists are in neighborhoods across the country. With an extensive nationwide network of over 85,000 pharmacy team members across more than 9,000 retail pharmacies and over 300 community-based specialty pharmacies, all serve as health touch points to provide care for those living with or at-risk-of HIV. You can also call our pharmacists to discuss anything over the phone or even chat with a pharmacist online via Pharmacy Chat.”

He says the second element is Walgreens’ one-to-one accessibility to patients. “Walgreens pharmacists deliver care and counsel daily, and are often seen as a pillar of trust, which is essential to HIV prevention and treatment efforts. Creating a warm and inviting environment for them to feel comfortable to approach us and ask us questions is something that we take great pride in, and our pharmacist training includes evaluating and adjusting their communication style, which can include body language or eye contact. Another focus is cultural competency, which covers the value of diversity, how to assess and manage the dynamics between a culture different from their own and adapt to the diversity of the individuals they serve. By being culturally competent the pharmacist can build rapport and trust, making it easier to work with the individual to improve therapeutic outcomes,” he says.

“Walgreens believes in a truly holistic approach to HIV prevention that addresses the patient’s needs in three main ways. The first is through HIV testing, because a patient cannot be empowered to make their own health decisions without first knowing their HIV status. Secondly, our care for patients living with HIV is centered on treatment as prevention, which means that if we help our patients in their efforts to keep their viral loads suppressed, they will not transmit HIV to another individual. Walgreens is deeply committed to helping to end the HIV epidemic through education efforts in additional prevention methods such as PrEP. Lastly, Walgreens has long-standing collaborations with organizations at the community, regional and national levels that can supplement our efforts in providing services to help prevent, test and treat HIV. Walgreens is a part of the Ready, Set, PrEP nationwide effort with the United States Department of Health and Human Services, which can help patients be able to afford the medications if they’re uninsured. And it all starts with your local Walgreens pharmacists serving as a resource to help meet your health care needs.”

He says that Walgreens has been committed to supporting people living with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. “With a pharmacy team that has expertise in HIV embedded in neighborhoods nationwide, coupled with long-standing collaborations at both the community and national level, we are uniquely positioned to serve as a trusted leader in HIV education and care across prevention, testing and treatment.”

To learn more, visit Walgreens.com/HIV.

Walgreens has established long-standing collaborations with organizations to provide services to help prevent, test and treat HIV. He says he is incredibly proud to say that the company has partnered with the following organizations to really make a difference in ending the HIV epidemic:

  • Greater Than AIDS is a leading national public information response from KFF(Kaiser Family Foundation) focused on the U.S. HIV/AIDS epidemic in communities most affected.
  • Since 2011, Greater than AIDS and Walgreens have joined with health departments and HIV service organizations across the country to provide more than 57,000 free HIV tests in Walgreens stores in support of National HIV Testing Day.
  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is  to enhance the health and wellbeing of all Americans, by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.
  • Walgreens supports the Ready, Set, PrEP nationwide effort led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that provides PrEP medications at no cost to those who qualify. The program aims to expand access to PrEP medications, reduce new HIV infections, and bring us one step closer to ending the HIV epidemic.


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