Charlene Flash


courtesy Charlene Flash

Charlene Flash developed her activist streak and fierce desire to help others as a student at Rutgers more than a dozen years ago. In helping to found the HIPHOP Promise Clinic, which provides New Brunswick’s poorest residents with health care, she came to understand the power of bringing services directly to people in need.

Now, Flash SPH’05, RWJMS’06 is helping people at risk of HIV infection in Houston, Texas. Until recently, she headed HIV Prevention Services for Harris Health System, for which she developed one of the first HIV prevention programs in the United States to prescribe the use of antiretroviral medications outside of clinical trials in order to prevent HIV-negative people from infection. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, “is highly effective in staving off HIV,” Flash says, “but it’s not reaching some of the most vulnerable individuals.” Studies demonstrate that the treatment is 92 to 99 percent effective in preventing HIV infection in high-risk individuals.

The program that she headed at Harris provides PrEP to roughly 450 patients each year, focusing “on all who need care, with an emphasis on those who are hard to reach,” she says. “The program is a driver for expanding PrEP throughout the city and beyond.”

Flash recently became associate chief medical officer at Houston’s Legacy Community Health, where she will continue her HIV prevention efforts. “With 13 sites and several school-based clinics, we provide health care, including HIV treatment and prevention services, to a large underserved population,” she says. “Many disparities exist, but we’re working to overcome them.”