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  • Gabriella Palmeri, VP of Partnerships, Healthvana

Healthvana Works with LGBTQ Patients to Help Prevent HIV in Women, and New Gen AI Tools Can Help



It’s time to encourage women and girls to make their health a priority in all its dimensions—physical, mental, social, and emotional health.


HIV impacts or is impacted by all of these health aspects, yet prevention strategies often neglect women.


In recent years, we’ve witnessed remarkable biomedical advances in HIV treatment and prevention and innovation in care delivery through telemedicine. However, these advancements are often not reaching women, who often are not aware of their HIV risk or aware of HIV prevention measures outside of barrier protection methods.


But HIV is a problem for women too:

●      1 in 4 people living with HIV today are women [Office of Women's Health].

●      1 in 5 new HIV infections in 2021 occurred in women, with over half of those new infections in Black women CDC.

●      Black women represent 72% of women living with HIV [BLACK AIDS Institute].

●      2 in 3 Black transgender women and over 1 in 3 Hispanic/Latina transgender women have HIV [CDC].

●      Only 10% of women who could benefit from PrEP are on PrEP [CDC].


New technologies, such as Generative AI, offer a solution on how to address HIV incidence in women and increase uptake in preventative measures.

Conversational AI can increase access to HIV-related information and support, particularly for those who may face barriers in traditional healthcare settings. AI has the potential to enhance the efficiency and equity of HIV care and play a pivotal role in providing personalized care, educating populations, reducing stigma, mitigating medical mistrust, and ensuring that comprehensive health information and linkage to care are readily accessible to all, irrespective of their background or circumstances.


The company I work for, Healthvana, is the leading technology company working to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S. - we’ve helped over 500,000 sexual health patients receive HIV/STI treatment/HIV prevention-related care to date. We created a HIPAA-compliant, patient-facing Conversational AI to help patients navigate and get stigma-free sexual health education and advice. To date, in our early launch, of the thousands of sexual health patients who have access to the AI, 31% of people who message the AI self-identify as women. Of the over 20,000 patients who have shown interest in leveraging Conversational AI for healthcare navigation, sexual education, and advice, 70% are from Communities of Color, and 20% identify as Black and female. Our AI platform serves as a valuable model for how generative AI can be harnessed to address the unique healthcare needs of women, promoting inclusivity and accessibility in HIV prevention and sexual health services.


Gen AI, PrEP accessibility, and education for women

OB/GYNs (Obstetricians/Gynecologists) are the primary healthcare providers for women's sexual and reproductive health needs. Despite their critical role, it's concerning that many OB/GYNs have not traditionally prescribed PrEP. I personally know too many OB/GYNs who have never written a prescription for PrEP. It wasn’t until June 2022 that the professional association for OBGYNs, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), recommended that their providers discuss PrEP with all sexually active adolescent and adult patients rather than providing this information to only those “considered at substantial risk of HIV infection.”


Furthermore, telehealth companies for PrEP (aka telePrEP), which have done incredible work streamlining access to PrEP and eliminating all costs associated with PrEP for most patients with their community partnerships, almost exclusively market to MSM (men who have sex with men). Plus - it’s well known that pharmaceutical advertisements for PrEP predominantly target the MSM population. The focus of PrEP marketing on MSM, while important for addressing HIV risks within this group, inadvertently has sidelined other populations in need of awareness and access to this critical HIV prevention tool.


AI could enhance personalized healthcare, improve awareness and education across diverse demographics, and optimize the targeting of preventive measures to include women effectively. AI technologies have the potential to analyze vast datasets to identify at-risk populations, tailor health communication, and support healthcare providers like OB/GYNs in decision-making processes. This approach could bridge the gap in HIV prevention strategies for women, ensuring they are no longer sidelined but are instead a central focus of preventive healthcare efforts.


AI to address women's biology and challenges in HIV Prevention

Receptive sex is riskier than insertive sex. During receptive sex, the thin and delicate mucous membranes in the rectum, vagina, or throat are prone to tearing, allowing pathogens like HIV to enter the body. This risk is heightened in older and menopausal women due to thinner vaginal tissues and reduced lubrication. Additionally, the larger surface area involved during receptive sex increases the likelihood of HIV transmission. Studies have shown that HIV is transmitted more efficiently from men to women, versus women to men, during heterosexual sexual intercourse (KFF).


Unfortunately, these critical concepts often do not make it into sexual health education. Even California’s Healthy Youth Act (CHYA), which is considered one of the most progressive state laws regarding sex education in the country, does not require that educators explain receptive sex and susceptibility to STIs.


This biological predisposition to higher transmission risks, coupled with the inadequacy of sexual health education to address these specific vulnerabilities, emphasizes the pressing need for innovative solutions. New-generation AI tools could play a transformative role in overcoming these challenges. AI technologies have the potential to personalize education and prevention strategies, targeting the unique risks women face regarding HIV.


They could provide tailored health information, improve the effectiveness of educational programs by including critical concepts often omitted (like the mechanics of receptive sex and its implications for STI susceptibility), and support healthcare providers in delivering comprehensive care personalized to women's specific needs.


Integrating AI tools into healthcare and education systems could bridge the knowledge gap, making prevention efforts more inclusive and effective for women.


Generative AI holds the promise of transforming HIV prevention and care for women, offering personalized, accessible solutions that address both biological vulnerabilities and systemic educational gaps. By leveraging this technology, we can create a future where HIV prevention is inclusive, effective, and attuned to the unique needs of women across all demographics.


HIV.gov’s HIV Services Locator can help you find HIV services like testing, HIV care, PrEP, and much more.

 

*(For this article, “women” and “men” describe sex assigned at birth.)


About the Author: Gabriella Palmeri is a digital health expert with a decade of experience in developing innovative solutions to close gaps and eliminate stigma in sexual health care. She spearheads Healthvana's new business ventures and plays a key role in the recent initiatives that leverage patient-facing generative AI to improve HIV/STI prevention and care.

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