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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 23, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 38
HIV-positive men of color not using meds, study says
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HIV-positive men of color not using meds, study says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Only a small proportion of HIV-positive young Gay men of color are using anti-retroviral drugs, a new study says. Some have never even been prescribed such drugs.

These startling results come from a study done at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and reported in the journal The Body.

The study is based on 155 subjects 'enrolled in an outreach, linkage, and retention study funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.'

Researchers found that almost half of the HIV-positive African-American and Latino young men in the study with CD4 counts less than or equal to 350 were not taking meds or were not prescribed meds by their health-care providers.

A full 80% of those with CD4 counts greater than or equal to 350 were not taking meds or were not prescribed them.

CD4 cells - or 'T-cells' - are the kind of white blood cells that fight infection. A CD4 count is used to indicate how advanced an HIV infection has become, and can help to assess the patient's state of health.

Prescription of anti-retroviral drugs - and adherence to the medication schedule once they are prescribed - are important because, as the study points out, the drugs have proven to be effective in controlling HIV infections.

'Of those youth who were started on ART [anti-retroviral therapy],' the study abstract reports, 'the majority (74%) did achieve undetectable viral loads (<400 copies).'

'This indicates to me that when provided with tools to improve adherence and when in a care setting in which these young men feel safe and respected, they can remain adherent to their [medication] and achieve [viral load] suppression,' lead researcher Lisa Hightow-Weidman told The AIDS Beacon magazine.

The study abstract adds that HIV infections among the population studied - young men of color - is increasing, and calls for increased attention to providing meds and support services necessary to improve adherence.

'Given the continued increase in cases of HIV infection among racial/ethnic minority [young men who have sex with men], efforts to increase both the provision of ART and support services that encourage adherence in this population are warranted,' it says.

In particular, the study abstract notes that 'Poor retention in clinical care has been associated with higher mortality, an increase in HIV RNA, and decreased CD4 cell count.'

'[Men who have sex with men], particularly young men, need to be educated and empowered to take control of their health, including talking with providers about medications and safer sex,' Hightow-Weidman said.

Researchers also said that steps to control alcohol abuse among young men who have sex with men could help to increase their access to anti-retroviral drugs.

Alcohol use is associated with low antiretroviral therapy use, the study showed, which the authors suggest may be due to the fact that doctors are less likely to prescribe anti-retrovirals to patients who abuse alcohol.

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