Youth and AIDS Project Housed in the Department of Pediatrics Aims to Prevent and Treat HIV in High-risk Youth

The non-profit Youth and AIDS Project (YAP) has been housed in the U of M Medical School Department of Pediatrics for 30 years and provides multiple different sexual education programs and services to at-risk youth in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Its focus is on HIV prevention and treatment in individuals aged 13 to 30. 

The non-profit is 100% grant-funded through the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Minnesota Department of Health, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation and private donations. YAP’s current programs include HIV testing, medical case management for youth living with HIV, support groups and treatment adherence programs. The group also plans to begin new research projects headed by the principal investigator, Calla Brown, MD, MHR, who is also an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics.

“Our main goal is to help youth become virally suppressed, but to do that, they need food to eat, a place to stay and mental health services,” said Val Rubin-Rashaad, executive director for YAP. “We provide all those referrals and do a lot more hand-holding than adult agencies do. We believe that young people can and do make good decisions. They just need the right tools and the right support to make those healthy choices.”

According to the CDC, people diagnosed with HIV should take HIV medicine, or antiretroviral therapy (ART), as soon as possible. In doing so, they can achieve an undetectable viral load that HIV screenings cannot detect. Not only does this help people with HIV stay healthy, but it dramatically decreases the likelihood of transmission via sex, syringe sharing or mother to child during pregnancy. This is often referred to as treatment as prevention. 

“HIV is still important,” Rubin-Rashaad said. “We’re still losing people. We lost one of our young people who has HIV+ this year due to COVID-19. Young people of color are still being disproportionately affected by this, so people need to remember it is still here. We are able to get people tested and treated. Undetectable means untransmittable.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some of YAP’s services looked different, but it continued to offer support to those clients in need of care, including online and socially distanced client intake meetings, online support groups and occasional doctor visits. Since county buildings and other agencies have been remote, some activity has been limited. 

YAP participated in its third sponsored #MNWalktoEndHIV on Oct. 9 with 75% of proceeds going to the organization. According to Rubin-Rashaad, YAP’s portion of the proceeds go directly to clients via YAP’s transportation fund, housing fund and technology fund, all of which help the clients to continue accessing care.

YAP has multiple other events planned for 2021, including a World AIDS Day event on Dec. 1 at the Macedonia Baptist Church in South Minneapolis. The event will feature an HIV testing and vaccine clinic as well as a mobile clinic to screen for other STIs. The 13th annual Sarah Simmons showcase will take place on Dec. 3 where YAP will be promoting HIV screening and COVID-19 vaccinations. To support the mission, individuals can donate directly on the website.

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