The first 45 people have graduated from the New York State Peer Worker Certification Program in HIV, Hepatitis C and Harm Reduction.
The certificate is awarded through SUNY Stony Brook’s School of Health Technology and Management.
Peer workers will help reduce new HIV infections by encouraging people with HIV to take medications to achieve viral suppression and working with at-risk populations to avoid infections by using pre-exposure prophylaxis, condoms and clean syringes.
These new peer workers will be key players in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Ending the Epidemic initiative that aims to reduce the number of new HIV infections in New York State to an estimated 750 annually by the end of 2020.
“New York has established itself as a national leader in fighting against the AIDS epidemic and these newly certified peer workers will help to build upon the progress that we have made,” Cuomo said. “These trained individuals will provide support, education and assistance to New Yorkers living with these diseases across this state.”
To be certified as a peer worker, a person must have a “lived experience” related to HIV, Hepatitis C or harm reduction services. Peer workers must also complete at least 90 hours of training and a 500-hour practicum.
Research shows that peer workers who share their life experiences with people in similar situations are able to help them achieve better health outcomes. Certified peer workers are employed by community-based organizations and hospitals, in both clinical and non-clinical settings. Peer workers, considered part of a care team, are assigned to clients, provide services such as patient navigation, assistance getting to appointments and support group facilitation. In addition, peer workers can help someone struggling with HIV and/or HCV overcome the stigma and discrimination that can undermine treatment adherence.
“Peer workers are uniquely suited to work with people who need assistance accessing HIV, HCV or harm reduction services,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker said. “These graduating peer workers will be able to provide the compassion and understanding that encourages at-risk individuals to take steps to protect themselves or to get tested and linked to care.”
The initiative is supported by the AIDS Institutes’s training initiative and state Ending the Epidemic funding. There are approximately 300 additional individuals currently enrolled in the certification process.