Houston Health Department Launches I Am Life™ Campaign To Educate Audiences About Preventing HIV Through PrEP, Treatment As Prevention (TasP) To End HIV Transmission

I am Life™ is the city’s first-ever health campaign directly reaching out to African-American and Hispanic members of The LGBTQ community

HOUSTON (Gilbreath Communications, Inc.) — HIV cases among the LGBTQ community’s African-American and Hispanic populations has become one of the top health crises in the Houston area and the southern United States. Specifically, the sub-groups at greater risk of acquiring HIV are African-American and Hispanic men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people of color ages 13 to 34. In response, the Houston Health Department (HHD) is launching a comprehensive strategy and a unified advertising, social marketing and digital branded campaign called I am Life™.

In 2017, three in five newly diagnosed Houstonians were African-American or Hispanic gay or bisexual males of all ages. In the same year, two in five newly diagnosed Houstonians were African-American or Hispanic MSM between ages 15 and 34.

With funding provided by CDC’s Project PrIDE Initiative, the goal of the I am Life™ campaign is to support HHD in reducing the number of HIV cases and increasing viral suppression among African-American and Hispanic MSM, and transgender people of color. The I am Life™ campaign involves people from Houston’s LGBTQ community telling their stories to strongly encourage their peers to be responsible and be safe by taking Pre-Exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) daily, and if they have already acquired HIV, to “Get in Treatment and Stay in Treatment” to “Become Undetectable” to live healthy and longer lives.

The I am Life™ campaign will reach out to African-American and Hispanic MSM and transgender people of color with messages about PrEP as an HIV prevention option and Treatment as Prevention for people living with HIV. PrEP is a prescribed antiretroviral drug taken daily by people most vulnerable to HIV transmission. Treatment as Prevention (TasP) uses HIV medicine and antiretroviral therapy (ART) to decrease the risk of HIV transmission for people living with HIV. Although systems are still being upgraded to accurately collect data on HIV transmissions in the transgender community, available data suggests this population has a high number of new transmissions and a significant number of people living with HIV.

HHD views I am Life™ as nothing less than a life-saving effort. Marlene McNeese, assistant director of HHD’s Disease Control and Prevention Division, said it is essential to reach young black and Hispanic LGBTQ people because many in this group are less likely to participate in health programs available in the larger LGBTQ community.

“We must reach the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community, especially very young teenagers who may already be independent of their parents and living on their own,” McNeese said. “We want this community to know that we are here to support them and for them to see themselves in this campaign. We want them to be able to relate and be moved to action and be safe.”

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner notes the urgency of HHD’s mission and said the city fully supports the campaign.

“With one of the nation’s premier health departments leading this charge and backed by strong community partners, new programs and services and the increased accessibility to medication for our priority populations, the City of Houston supports the I am Life™ campaign to raise awareness and educate audiences about PrEP and Treatment as Prevention to help prevent HIV and to save lives,” Mayor Turner said.

HHD enlisted Gilbreath Communications to develop and design the research, strategy, marketing and advertising for the I am Life™ campaign. Collectively, through the real-life stories of people from the African-American and Hispanic sectors of the LGBTQ community, individuals express self-affirmation and empowerment by proclaiming a recurring campaign theme to the larger society: “I am here. I exist. I matter.” Essentially, the campaign delivers a deeply emotional appeal from people personally affected in some way by HIV — from people living with the virus and maintaining their health through treatment to others using PrEP to avoid acquiring HIV.

The individual stories provide a positive look into the personal journeys of the ambassadors who deliver the I am Life™ campaign. Participants include a Houston Ballet soloist and other professional dancers; a Houston Police Department officer; a high school student; several college students; a nurse; an HIV social worker; a home health nurse who also is a blogger; and a medical doctor who is a senior HIV researcher in the Texas Medical Center.

“This campaign is rooted in extensive research, strategy and understanding of the cultural barriers and nuances related to health care for our target audiences,” Melvin Young Lewis, chief strategy officer at Gilbreath Communications said. “This new multimedia and social marketing and PSA campaign, available in English and Spanish, will be distributed across multiple channels including a branded website, social media platforms, digital radio, targeted broadcast and cable, advertorials and outdoor advertising, including a partnership with Houston METRO.

I am Life™ is more than a campaign,” Lewis continued. “It is a pledge to be truthful, responsible and safe. It voices a much more urgent and powerful message to ‘Live Healthy to Live Longer,’ beyond the typical emphasis of enjoying risk-free recreational sex through PrEP or by becoming untransmittable through treatment.” “Instead, I am Life™ emphasizes that no matter how individualistic someone may be, an active sex life always involves other people, and requires a certain sense of responsibility to be transparent and trustworthy with every intimate partner.” The I am Life™ ambassadors’ personal video stories are distinctly different, in appearance and messaging, but united purposefully in a common goal.”

To learn more about the I am Life™ campaign, visit www.houstoniamlife.com