Helping Young People Adopt Healthy Sexual Practices

In 2011, Fenway Health became one of 19 sites within the Adolescent Trials Network (ATN).  The ATN is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct HIV/AIDS research among young people between the ages of 12 to 24 years old.  As seen in the graph below, HIV prevention research is crucial among adolescents because this is where some of the highest incident rates of HIV infection are found…

Continue reading this post here, on the Fenway Health website.


The Painful Process of Authentic Compassion

I like to think of myself as a curator of friendships.  A content specialist of hearts painted gold, who brave the desert creatures and stay awake through the Gethsemane of the soul.

I collected this one heart over a decade ago and tucked her carefully inside my own.  She had just returned from the West Bank where she had made her home with Palestinian Arabs.  Returned to a Midwestern town, to a small, Caucasian, pro-Israel Church, full of cars with W bumper stickers in the parking lot, where people lined up asking her, “How was Pakistan?”  And her face would glow the color of her hair and she would smile and graciously say, “It was fine,” and then swallow a fiery lump down in her throat.

That summer, I watched as she found healing and solace while tending to her melliferous bees.  We would spread fresh honey from bell jars on bread, and I would ask her question after question about the conflict within.  She would point out specific regions on the map that was hung above my bed, finding hope when I began to understand.

Little did she know that the West Bank was just the beginning of the constant cycle of suffering, compassion, and freedom that would be her life.  She wandered the streets of Calcutta, among the heroin-addicts and slum dwellers.  Built shelters in Sri Lanka when the tsunami decimated Southeast Asia.  Became homeless when Katrina blew in from the Atlantic.  Joined me as I worked with sex slaves in the red light district of Bangkok.  Provided food and housing to refugees in Darfur.  Went back to Jordan.  Moved to Afghanistan.  Fled when her colleagues were kidnapped.  Sought asylum in Amsterdam.  And then resettled in Kenya.

She has been homeless and displaced; a refugee and a wanderer.  She has seen more brutality inflicted upon the human race than most people in this generation.  She has stared at the heavens and begged for rain and then seen a small black cloud the size of a hand appear.  She is covered in spiritual DEET, capable of entering into the darkest of territories and coming out, afflicted, but not crushed.   She has died over and over again and has held tightly to the only thing this life can give to her.

And when she writes to me now, from her small cottage in Kenya, and describes the spiritual trenches with tears flowing freely and with intention, I can easily share with her about the kid I know who contracted HIV from his uncle, my college friend who was raped and is now with child, and the aching of my own broken heart from love that has been lost.

Because she walks around with her own broken heart, cracked from the hundreds of times she has known and loved and suffered.  Because she sits with me, a million miles away, but in the same Garden.  Crying out with me that the cup would be taken, dreading the constant request for another death that will ultimately bring life.  A woman who would never fall asleep while I am sweating blood, because she is sweating blood, too.

And it is for her that I write this, to remind her that he is coming and has overcome.  That where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.  That sorrow and sighing will pass away.  That blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  That a bruised reed he will not break.  That by his stripes we are healed.  That we will no longer be called “forsaken.”  That we will run and not grow weary.  That there will be a garment of praise.  That there is always more. That the sons of Satan will fall down at our feet and confess that he has always loved us.

So, let us lift the cup and drink quickly now.

Here’s to her.

And here’s to Him.

HIV Rates Are Rising Among America’s Youth


Infograph Designed by John Hanawalt

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released a report stating that over 50% of young people in the United States who are infected with HIV are not aware of it, and adolescents between the ages of 13 and 24 account for 25% of all new HIV infections in the United States.  Out of 12,000 new infections in the U.S. among this population, 72% occurred in young men who have sex with men (YMSM).

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, 44% of all HIV infections occurred among YMSM.  Although this percentage is slightly lower than the national average, it underscores the dire need for therapeutic and behavioral interventions which are tailored specifically for this cohort in Massachusetts.

Addressing sexual health needs and HIV prevention among YMSM can be tricky because many are questioning their sexual identity and orientation and are not open with providers about their sexual behaviors.  Additionally, stigma and homophobia can prevent at-risk individuals from seeking medical care or HIV testing.  According to a recent report by the CDC, only 35% of young people have been tested for HIV.

The Adolescent Trials Network at Fenway Health has opened a research study for YMSM between the ages of 18 and 22 called Project PrePare which seeks to find out how youth can take and benefit from Truvada for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP).  Truvada was approved by the FDA for HIV prevention in July 2011; however, adolescents were not well represented in the initial research.  Project PrePare projects that by making PrEP, along with condoms and regular risk-reduction counseling, accessible to this young cohort, HIV transmission rates among YMSM will be reduced.

Project PrePare lasts approximately one year.  Study participants will receive regular blood work, HIV testing and counseling, Truvada, and medication adherence counseling while participating in the study.  Additionally, each participant will participate in a behavioral intervention called Many Men Many Voices.  Many Men Many Voices is a seven-session, group-level HIV and STD prevention intervention for gay men. The intervention addresses factors that influence the behavior of men who have sex with men, including cultural, social, and religious norms; interactions between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases; sexual relationship dynamics; and the social and psychological influences that racism and homophobia have on HIV risk behaviors.

If you or someone you know may be interested in finding out more about this study, please visit the Project PrePare website at:  On this website, individuals are given the opportunity to take an eligibility quiz to determine if they can participate in this study.  All answers are completely confidential; a simple “yes” or “no” will be sent to a study recruiter, along with optional contact information that the individual can provide so that they can be reached.  Additionally, anyone who is interested and would like more information can email Emily George, RN, MPH, the Boston site Project Manager, at egeorge@fenwayhealth.

Young, HIV-Positive MSM: Cover Your Butt Against HPV

A new study looks at the protective effects of Gardasil vaccine in young, HIV-positive men who have sex with men.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that gay and bisexual men (men who have sex with other men) are about 17 times more likely to develop anal cancer than men who only have sex with women. HIV-positive males who have sex with males are at increased risk of developing anal cancer and/or genital warts compared to the general population. However, those who receive the Gardasil vaccine could be protected.

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Reaching Out To HIV-Infected And At-Risk Youth In Boston

In the United States, 34% of all new HIV infections occur among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years old. In Massachusetts, HIV infections among people between the ages of 13–24 years old account for about 12% of all new infections. In the midst of these alarming statistics, Fenway Health is proud to be the only site in New England that is a member of the Adolescent Trials Network (ATN); a national network sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development with programs specifically designed to reach out to HIV-infected and at-risk youth.  To read more click here.