Zupenda M. Davis is making strides in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention and advocacy.
She was recently awarded the Red Ribbon Community Leader Award from the Community Advisory Board of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Center for AIDS Research. She was honored on Dec. 2, 2013 for her leadership in HIV/AIDS education and advocacy.
Davis has learned valuable lessons through her advocacy work.
“One of the lessons learned is that advocacy can take on various forms: policy, coalition building, community initiatives and research. When setting an agenda for advocacy, you have to let the needs of the target population set the agenda and establish the foundation to develop relevant strategies for action,” said Davis, who is an assistant professor and director of the bachelor of science of public health program at La Salle University. “In my experience, the most effective HIV prevention advocacy outcomes are a result of buy-in, multi-disciplinary collaboration and active participation from political stakeholders, community members.”
While growing up in Camden, N.J., Davis observed how poor socioeconomic conditions impacted the health status of a community. She initially set out to impact the community by addressing high rates of teen pregnancy. While studying public health with a focus on reproductive health, she learned about the prevention of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS.
“Socio-economic issues, including limited access to high-quality health care, housing, and HIV prevention education, directly and indirectly increase the risk for HIV infection and affect the health of people living with and at risk for HIV,” Davis said. “African Americans are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS so I wanted to be involved in increasing awareness of HIV prevention strategies, such as testing, engaging in safer sex behaviors and biomedical prevention.”
Davis focus on HIV prevention comes as there were almost 20,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia.
“When you’re looking at HIV rates in Black populations, it’s not that Black people are having more sex or more unprotected sex but there is a bigger concentration of HIV in the community and Blacks often tend to have sex with other Blacks,” she said. “If you are in a population in a community where there is a high incidence of HIV and you are only dating in that particular pool, then your risk for getting HIV is going to be increased, just by that statistic alone.”
Davis works with the Black Heterosexual Men’s Health Initiative which seeks to increase awareness of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections among Black men.
She noted that while much attention is being given to Black gay men and heterosexual Black women around HIV prevention, heterosexual men are often left out of the conversation.
Davis as serves as a board member for Haven Youth Center, Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides health and social services for youth who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
At La Salle, Davis has the opportunity to work with others who specialize in HIV/AIDS research. She’s also working to raise HIV awareness among students, faculty and staff.
Prior to joining La Salle, Davis was a training specialist for the Pennsylvania/MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center at the Health Federation of Philadelphia. While at the Health Federation, she traveled to the XIX International AIDS Conference and was able to bring the latest prevention and treatment information back to Philadelphia in 2011.
She is a 1994 graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Project L/EARN program. Project L/EARN is an intensive, 10-week summer internship for undergraduate college students who are from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that have traditionally been underrepresented in graduate education. She credits the experience with her pursuit of an advanced degree in public health.
“It not only made me a stronger candidate for admission to my MPH program, it also prepared me for various research-oriented positions that I held and research projects in which I have participated. Today, I still use the skills I obtained from the internship. Project L/EARN opens many doors to opportunities for professional development, networking, and personal growth,” Davis said.