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Northwestern Launches HIV Prevention Youth Awareness Campaign

A new social awareness and community mobilization campaign called “PrEP4Teens,” a collaboration led by scientists at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and community leaders in sexual health and youth engagement recently launched at TaskForce Prevention and Community Services in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood.

PrEP4Teens stems from research that identified lack of understanding and awareness as the main barriers for teenagers and young sexual and gender minorities to start taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP are FDA-approved medications that reduce an individual’s chance of getting HIV from sex or injection drug use by as much as 99%. PrEP is approved for adolescent use.

In January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation that healthcare providers discuss PrEP with all sexually active people without HIV in hopes that doing so would reduce stigma associated with talking about HIV transmission risk factors. But young adults and adolescents only make up 11% of those who are prescribed PrEP. To stem HIV spread at its source, medical communities now must grapple with how to dispense information about and increase access to PrEP, particularly among gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and gender minorities, who are especially vulnerable to HIV transmission.


Kathryn Macapagal headshot

Sexual health information isn’t always developed with teens’ needs in mind. We need to change this now, and in a big way, and the PrEP4Teens campaign aims to be part of that.”

Kathryn Macapagal, PhD

Now, to combat misinformation and grow common understanding of the medication, Feinberg’s Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH), in partnership with TaskForce Prevention and Community Services, Jim Pickett Consulting, AIDS Foundation Chicago, University of Chicago, Lurie Children’s Hospital, and other local organizations, will launch an innovative social awareness campaign created with and for adolescents.

“I’ve heard from thousands of teenagers who want but aren’t getting the education they need to make empowered, informed decisions about their health and their bodies. And sexual health information isn’t always developed with teens’ needs in mind. We need to change this now, and in a big way, and the PrEP4Teens campaign aims to be part of that,” says Kathryn Macapagal, PhD, associate professor of Medical Social Sciences. “It’s been an honor to work with incredible community partners, youth, and artists who share the same vision, and we hope this is just the start.”

Emphasizing community engaged and designed art, the PrEP4Teens campaign will feature murals and other types of public art created collaboratively by muralists and Chicago youth. The first mural, which will be featured in TaskForce’s windows, is designed by local artist and LGBTQ+ community advocate David Gauna, who conducted a workshop at TaskForce with a dozen youth to inform the mural’s look and messaging. Another key component of the campaign is a teen-friendly informational website, in English and Spanish, that explains PrEP and points to culturally competent PrEP providers in the Chicago area who serve youth. The website will be live on November 15 at

To celebrate the launch of a years-long initiative, PrEP4Teens hosted an opening event with a pre-Thanksgiving buffet, a photo booth, and a youth “mini-ball” featuring a vogue competition with PrEP-inspired categories.

Macapagal explained that the campaign work would not be possible without buy-in from numerous people and organizations in the community, including the Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences (NUCATS) Institute and Third Coast CFAR.

“The CFAR and NUCATS Institute 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,” says Macapagal. “CFAR then 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.”

The NUCATS Institute is supported in part by the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Grant Number UL1TR001422. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Written by Win Reynolds

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