A local sexual health campaign for adolescents recently received $310,000 in funding from the Chicago Department of Public Health, Alphawood Foundation, Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, and the Third Coast Center for AIDS Research. The campaign, called PrEP4Teens, is led by Kathryn Macapagal, PhD, associate professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University, and Jim Pickett of Jim Pickett Consulting and senior advisor at AVAC Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention. The initiative aims to educate LGBTQ+ teens in the Chicago area about PrEP and empower them to access sexual healthcare through a blend of art, advocacy, and science.
“It means the world to me to see this campaign come to life,” said Macapagal. “Folks who do HIV prevention research rarely get to see the programs they develop actually materialize outside a research setting, so to see this translation from science to practice in three years is really astonishing.”
Teenagers and young adults (13–24 years old) accounted for 20% of new HIV diagnoses in 2020, with 6,135 young people diagnosed with HIV. In Illinois, young people ages 13–24 represent the second-lowest percentage of PrEP users among all age groups. This campaign intends to inform teens about PrEP, educate them about local clinics offering HIV prevention and treatment services, and play a role in reducing the number of young people impacted by HIV.
“I believe deeply that young people deserve information about and access to sexual health services that have the potential to improve their wellbeing,” said Pickett. “And our team is committed to following the lead of teens, who know best how to reach their peers.”
In the spring of 2018, just before PrEP was approved for adolescents by the FDA, Macapagal learned through her own research there were very few LGBTQ+ teens who were aware of PrEP. This motivated her to develop two research projects focused on PrEP for this population, including the study that kicked off the PrEP4Teens work in 2020. This initial project was funded by an EHE supplement to the Third Coast CFAR. On this project, Macapagal partnered with Pickett, an internationally-recognized HIV prevention advocate who led Chicago’s PrEP4Love campaign for adults. PrEP4Love, which aimed to destigmatize PrEP by tying it to words and imagery associated with intimacy, closeness, and pleasure, reached millions of Chicagoans and inspired the PrEP4Teens campaign.
After researching what teens and adults wanted out of an adolescent-centered PrEP campaign, Macapagal and Pickett’s team recruited LGBTQ+ teens in the Chicago area to develop a campaign proposal based on these findings. During a 2021 summer think tank, led by strategist Elijah McKinnon of People Who Care, young people ages 15 – 18 created mock-ups of digital posters, murals, stickers, and TikTok challenges that would appeal to their peers. The team held another summer think tank in 2022, where teens expanded upon campaign ideas and answered creative and implementation questions.
“The youth who have worked with us have shared that it’s been meaningful to them in a number of ways,” said Pickett. “They’ve learned about PrEP, felt like they were contributing to something that has real impact, felt like adults respected and listened to them, became sexual health educators in college because of their experiences working with us, and are building their resumes along the way.”
The PrEP4Teens campaign is expected to launch later this year with social media accounts and a website featuring information and resources. The campaign team also plans to work with local artists and community organizations to install murals and window clings around Chicago where they are likely to be seen by teenagers.
Macapagal explains the campaign work would not be possible without buy-in from numerous people and organizations in the community, including the Third Coast CFAR.
“The CFAR provided the initial funding to do research to get a sense for whether the campaign would even be of interest to local teens and the adults in their lives, and what they would want a campaign to look like,” said Macapagal. “Then they supported us in building community-academic partnerships, engaging youth in brainstorming sessions, and giving lots and lots of pitches and presentations to potential funders and new partners. These new grants and contracts will enable us to work with and support local organizations and youth champions to launch a campaign that truly puts them and their needs at the center.”
Stay updated on the PrEP4Teens campaign by following PrEP4Teens on Instagram @prep4teens. Exclusive behind-the-scenes posts will track the team’s progress as it works with Black- and Brown-led small community-based organizations and young people to plan, develop, and launch the different campaign components throughout the year.
To support the PrEP4Teens campaign, consider making a gift here, select “Other” and write in the fund name “LGBT adolescent/youth initiatives.”
Current funders of this project: Third Coast CFAR, Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Chicago Department of Public Health, and Alphawood Foundation.
Previous funders of this project: Third Coast CFAR and Northwestern University Department of Medical Social Sciences.
Current partners and team members represent: Northwestern University, AIDS Foundation Chicago, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Jim Pickett Consulting, and People Who Care.
Chicago-based expert advisors include: Dr. Sybil Hosek, of Cook County Health and the CORE Center, and Drs. Aniruddha Hazra and John Schneider of University of Chicago.
Youth leaders and think tank members: Ryder Kennedy, Holden Green, Helena Leo Martinez, Sadia Haidari, and Max Jordan.