NEWS

Cultural Humility: An Important Tool for Fighting HIV/AIDS

A core component of cultural humility is introspection symbolized by the webinar's signature image.

Although HIV does not discriminate, race and economic class can affect your odds of being infected, as well as your likelihood of receiving effective treatment. To combat such disparities, cultural humility can help organizations provide more effective care.

That was the resounding message relayed at a Brown Bag Lunch Webinar held by the Black AIDS Institute in February 2017. The webinar, titled "Developing Cultural Humility," looked at the role of cultural humility and how it can help reduce health disparities in the prevention and treatment of HIV.

There is no denying that such disparities exist. In 2015:

· Black Americans made up 12 percent of the population but 45 percent of new HIV infections.

· Three-quarters of men who filled out pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) prescriptions were White, while only 9 percent were Black.

· The HIV diagnosis rate for Black women was 16 times as high  as the rate for White women.

If these statistics are going to change, providers must approach prevention and treatment from a cultural perspective.

Where Cultural Competency and Cultural Humility Meet

The key to creating a comfortable environment for both providers and clients is practicing cultural competency and cultural humility, the webinar proclaimed.

Cultural competency is the ability of providers to deliver services that meet the social, cultural and linguistic needs of their patients. A clinical worker who has cultural competency has some insight into the unique challenges and needs that a client or patient has from a cultural standpoint. For example, a hospital might have a translator available to work with patients who don't understand English.

Cultural humility, however, goes a bit further. It seeks to create a partnership with clients that is respectful of each client's needs while avoiding power imbalances. So instead of telling a client what to do, a provider seeks to have a discussion about what the client needs. One way to practice humility is by "asking questions to understand what the client actually wants," said Raniyah Copeland, director of programs for the Black AIDS Institute.

Putting the Knowledge Into Action

There are a number of ways that providers can practice cultural competency. One way is by learning about common struggles that affect people of different cultures. Training should be thorough so that providers don't run the risk of having their judgment clouded by stereotypes and generalizations.

Providers should also familiarize themselves with solutions to problems that are common to many members of specific communities. For example, if many people in a certain socioeconomic class depend on mass transportation, a provider might familiarize him- or herself with a variety of transportation options in case a client needs them.

Adding cultural humility to the mix can create a stronger relationship between providers and clients. Here's how to add cultural humility to your interactions:

Avoid making assumptions. Instead of assuming that you know what the client wants or needs, let the client tell you.

Keep your experiences out of it. Even if you and the client have a lot in common, every person's experiences are different. Be open to the client having a different perspective from you.

Be attuned to the client's moods and feelings. Pay attention to the interaction and don't ask prying questions. Let clients lead the discussion.

Remember that the client knows best. Often providers can be tempted to tell clients what's best for them. However, it's the job of the provider to provide information and allow the client to make his or her own informed decisions.

It is also important that organizations promote cultural humility internally. To do so, they might implement trainings so that all employees understand the concept. Organizations should also pay attention to the space where providers meet with clients. For example, clients and providers might sit side by side rather than across from each other to facilitate a more balanced interaction.

Because HIV affects communities differently, cultural competency and cultural humility are two of the greatest tools we have to help bring an end to the epidemic for everyone.

Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and personal growth.