Curbing HIV/AIDS Epidemic Reliant on Social, Public Health Services

Social and public health providers linking patients to HIV services was found to increase retention in care.

There has been significant progress made in the global fight against HIV/AIDS, with many individuals approaching prevention much more seriously than in the past. However, additional steps are needed to stop the spread of the infection, including a cure for HIV.

Related Coverage: Global Effort Needed to Cure HIV

A crucial aspect of preventing further spread of HIV is linking at-risk patients to social and public health services. Patients who are at a high-risk of contracting HIV must be linked to services to ensure they will receive health care, adhere to preventive drugs, and prevent reinfection, according to a new study published by Health Education & Behavior.

The findings underscore the significant role social and public health service providers play in ensuring access to HIV care.

Prior to 2012, health care providers were encouraged to link patients to behavioral services that would modify their behaviors to lower their risk of HIV, according to the authors. A newer policy stated that providers should link patients to testing and antiretroviral therapy when necessary.

"It took some time for providers to make the switch in priorities and also to begin to trust that making referrals to other providers in other service agencies would not lead to loss of patients," said lead author Rogério Meireles Pinto, PhD.

Included in the study were data from nearly 380 health care providers—including social workers, health educators, and patient navigators—operating in New York City in 2013 and 2014. The authors said that these agencies provided HIV testing and care, counseling, substance misuse treatment, and housing services.

The most significant finding was that providers whose organization offered preventive behavioral interventions were more likely to facilitate HIV testing and primary care, according to the study.

The authors accounted for the race of the providers, many of whom identified as Hispanic or African American.

Notably, nonwhite providers were less likely to link clients to certain services. The authors suggested this finding could be due to racial disparities in levels of trust in how the services were started without strong community participation, according to the study.

The authors concluded the providers who help high-risk patients navigate the health care system may help increase retention in care, thus, preventing new cases of HIV.