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More Self-Testing for HIV Maintains Patient Care During Virus

July 6, 2020, 9:39 PM

The Trump administration is planning to expand HIV self-testing as part of its push to lower new infections by more than 90% in the next decade, top federal health officials said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will increase self-testing and self-collection of specimens, which could allow for broader access to preventive medicine even after the coronavirus is contained, Eugene McCray, director of the CDC Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said Monday at the AIDS 2020 conference. Preventive medicine requires a negative test to be prescribed.

He also said the agency is working to get patients 90 days of their HIV prevention drugs, which would better enable them to adhere to their medications.

The CDC’s plan highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic has invigorated some aspects of the administration’s efforts to fight HIV while challenging others. The agency has seen a 30% reduction in HIV testing in most clinics and emergency departments, McCray said. Around 50% of syringe service programs have had to reduce their operations as well due to the pandemic.

But although the virus has diverted staff away from those critical HIV efforts, it has made it easier to engage people in getting care, health officials said.

Because patients have been stuck at home, it has been easier to get people care, said Laura Cheever, associate administrator for the HIV/AIDS Bureau at the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Telehealth has helped improve care, but Cheever said the federal government needs to make sure the digital divide doesn’t amplify already existing disparities.

Community health centers have also been able to reach people at home and get them back into care, said Harold Phillips, senior HIV advisor and chief operating officer of the administration’s Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative. Figuring out how to make that long-lasting is the challenge, Phillips said.

Coming Resources

The HHS will soon launch three tools for public health workers and doctors to help them better understand the HIV epidemic in the U.S.

The department is getting ready to release a data dashboard that will have both national and jurisdiction-level data on HIV, including sex, race, age, and the percentage of at-risk people being prescribed HIV-prevention drugs, Phillips said.

The HHS’s Health Resources and Services Administration is planning a landing page with anecdotal examples of practices in HIV care that have worked for some providers, like how to target certain minority populations, Cheever said.

Another tool planned for next month will break down the funding provided by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS program to local communities, Phillips said.

That program gives funds to local communities, states, and nonprofits and provides support to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS.

To contact the reporter on this story: Shira Stein in Washington at sstein@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

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