Disparities around HIV health outcomes seem to be intensifying across the nation, as the virus continues to disproportionately impact people of color, gay and bi men, trans women, homeless youth, and women experiencing domestic violence, drug use, sexual exploitation, and/or mental health issues. Latinos in Miami, for example, are more likely to contract HIV, more likely to see it progress to AIDS, and more likely to die from AIDS complications than their white counterparts (in fact, Latino gay men in Miami-Dade County live only half as long as white gay men after an AIDS diagnosis).
Hoping to combat these kinds of disparities, the California HIV/AIDS Research Program has granted $9 million over four years to support innovative projects at University of California Centers for AIDS Research in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.
In Los Angeles, an estimated 4,000 homeless youth spend the night on the streets, beaches, basketball courts, public parks, or in abandoned buildings, according to CHARP. These kids still manage to find ways to get online and connect with friends. So one L.A. program uses artificial intelligence software to determine which of these homeless kids has the higher social network reach and then recruits and trains them to distribute HIV information, condoms, and free food to their peers.
One San Francisco initiative uses teleconferencing to reach young adult substance users who are living with HIV but don’t take their meds regularly. A University of California San Diego-developed program, EmPower Women, connects HIV-positive women who have “been there” — through substance abuse, incarceration, partner violence, or mental illness — to peers struggling with similar issues.
Exploiting the strong social networks in Oakland’s black and Latino, largely gay, bi, and trans house and ball community; the University of California San Francisco is collaborating on family-style prevention and treatment initiatives. These “houses” generally offer surrogate families, making them ideal settings for education and other HIV activities (like all members getting tested together).
Several programs are leveraging tech to reach at-risk individuals, connecting them with care and keeping them adherent to meds and check-ups. The HealthMindr app is one example. It was designed specifically for young men of color who are HIV-positive, but may also have conflicted feelings about having sex with other men or using drugs, and thus fail to keep regular appointments at clinics.
By empowering those in underserved communities to help themselves, these grant-funded programs have a chance to make a real difference, in both the lives of HIV-positive people and in the epidemic itself.