When Nora Howell, BBA, community educator at the Harlem Prevention Center (HPC), joined ICAP in 2020, she felt it was almost like a dream come true. The Harlem native was driven by how her role at the New York City-based clinical research hub would allow her to reach people in the heart of her community, educating them about HIV prevention.

“What excites me to come to work every day is being in a role where I can teach. Working for ICAP has exposed me to many aspects of public health that have allowed me to examine the social determinants of health here in Harlem,” said Howell.

In any given week, Howell connects with communities and community-based organizations, participating in online and social media campaigns, developing recruitment and retention strategies for ICAP research studies, and organizing and participating in community events to create awareness about ICAP – and Pride month is a productive month to do just that.

“We are heavily emphasizing the education aspect of pride this year,” said Howell. “Pride is a party, and we realize that we can’t compete with the performances and music, so we make sure our presence is very inclusive of us being part of the party while also educating and getting the message across, whether it is recruiting for current studies or handing out HIV-self test kits in a way that doesn’t dampen the mood of Pride.”

Nora Howell (left) and Keona Lewis (right) at a Pride event

ICAP’s Harlem and Bronx Prevention Centers, ICAP’s two clinical research centers in New York City, are at the heart of ICAP’s commitment to advancing the health of the city’s most vulnerable populations. They conduct studies that inform the latest innovations in HIV prevention and then share research results to inform action all across the globe.

Outreach teams from the Prevention Centers rely on awareness events like Pride to increase community engagement around ICAP’s research, including recruitment for studies and spreading the word about HIV prevention, care, and treatment. BPC and HPC joined forces to participate in Bronx Pride and Harlem Pride together this year. They collaborated on activities that would appeal to the LGBTQIA+ community, like creating and distributing goodie bags with fun messages and HIV test kits (sponsored by the New York Department of Health) to take the edge off of the stigma that can often surround HIV.

In the past two years, Howell and her team at HPC focused on recruiting participants for the HPTN 091 “I AM” study, which aimed to test the feasibility and impact of providing oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) alongside gender-affirming hormone therapy to transgender women. Working with trans-owned and operated community-based organizations became a significant part of the success and engagement of the study.

“A key part of recruitment for HPTN 091 was being allowed in spaces where people of LGBTQIA+ experience are. For that study, our community engagement and recruitment strategies were centered around locating trans women,” said Howell.

By being present in spaces that were primarily intended for people of trans experience, ICAP was able to provide sponsorship, resources, educational materials, and access to gender-affirming health care, even for those who didn’t qualify for the study, according to Howell.

While the I AM study is wrapping up, ICAP’s engagement with underserved communities and populations will continue and expand in upcoming research studies. “Looking ahead, we’re shifting gears from normally prioritizing gay, bisexual, and trans folks to focusing now on cisgender women, and particularly cisgender women of color,” said Howell. “I am extremely excited, for the first time in my career in public health, to prioritize and focus on Black cisgender women, their sexual health, and how HIV impacts black women in our community.”

The upcoming study to which Howell refers will focus on adherence to twice-yearly injectable PrEP. The HPC team is gearing up to start active recruitment for the study in July. “I’m excited to get the study off the ground and begin having conversations with Black women about their understanding of HIV, stigmas connected to it, their sexual wellness routines, and their current relationships with their primary care providers. This is information that is so crucial for us to have, and there’s a lot of groundwork that we’re going to do, including informational sessions and Q & As to learn about the mindset of Black women in Harlem regarding their sexual health.”

Howell is just one example of the many ICAP employees committed to serving local communities and promoting lifesaving health services. As Howell makes clear through her passion and dedication every day, ICAP’s support of Pride and the community it celebrates is all about helping people stay healthy—whether they live in New York City or on the other side of the world.

About ICAP

A major global health organization that has been improving public health in countries around the world for two decades, ICAP works to transform the health of populations through innovation, science, and global collaboration. Based at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, ICAP has projects in more than 40 countries, working side-by-side with ministries of health and local governmental, non-governmental, academic, and community partners to confront some of the world’s greatest health challenges. Through evidence-informed programs, meaningful research, tailored technical assistance, effective training and education programs, and rigorous surveillance to measure and evaluate the impact of public health interventions, ICAP aims to realize a global vision of healthy people, empowered communities, and thriving societies. Online at icap.columbia.edu

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