New collaboration will boost access to HIV care
June 4, 2010 -- Longtime HIV researcher Cynthia Gomez remembers a time when people diagnosed with HIV were given just a few months to live. Today, advances in medical treatment are helping individuals with the virus to live longer, healthier lives, but some of the most marginalized people in the U.S. aren't receiving the care they need. With a $2 million grant from the National AIDS Fund, Gomez and her team at SF State's Health Equity Institute are launching a collaborative effort to improve access to HIV care in San Francisco and the East Bay.
"San Francisco boasts state-of-the-art HIV care, and Oakland also has many services, but there are 8,000 people in the Bay Area who know they have HIV but aren't engaged in treatment," said Gomez, director of the Health Equity Institute. "We want to link underserved individuals to essential HIV care and to better understand why they weren't in care to begin with."
The Health Equity Institute has formed The Bay Area Network for Positive Health -- 13 social service agencies that will work together to break down the barriers that prevent people with HIV from seeking, or receiving, HIV care.
"For some, the barriers are psychological," Gomez said. "People may have trouble accepting their diagnosis or they don't seek treatment because they aren't comfortable being viewed as 'ill' when they have no symptoms yet."
The consortium, which includes community-based groups and the San Francisco and Alameda county health departments, will target the people who research indicates are missing out on HIV care, for example people of color, transgender people and those transitioning out of prison. Project partners will work with established homeless shelters, prison programs and faith-based organizations to reach these people with treatment options.
When The Bay Area Network for Positive Health starts its programs this July, it will also tackle the barriers to care that stem from the way HIV care is provided.
"Care providers aren't always sensitive to the needs of diverse clients," Gomez said. "For people who are homeless, substance users or recently released from prison, the systems of care are often difficult to navigate with long wait times for appointments."
Project partners will train HIV-care providers on such topics as stigma, working with specific populations, such as transgender individuals or immigrants, and designing HIV services that meet clients' lifestyles
"Even small changes, like clinics offering same-day or walk-in appointments, can really be lifesaving, both for the individual's health and for their community," Gomez said.
The impact of the three-year program is expected to be seen in improved quality of life for people living with HIV, and reduced transmission rates.
The grant awarded to The Bay Area Network for Positive Health was announced at a White House event in May, when Gomez and her team were among those invited to participate in a discussion on public-private partnerships hosted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. The Health Equity Institute's Bay Area Network for Positive Health was one of five strategic collaborations from across the U.S. to receive funding through the National AIDS Fund's Positive Charge initiative.
SF State's Health Equity Institute leads research and community partnerships that tackle health disparities caused by inequities in society. More information can be found at: www.healthequity.sfsu.edu/
-- Elaine Bible
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