According to the Centers for Disease Control, Florida has the third highest rate of HIV diagnosis in the United States with a large concentration of those diagnosed in South Florida. Currently about 115,000 people live with HIV in Florida, with an estimated 26 percent not currently in HIV care.
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work aimed to assess predictors of retention in HIV care and viral suppression among youth diagnosed with HIV between 1993 and 2014 in Florida.
“We wanted to examine Florida youth, because young people tend to have more challenges with HIV care retention and viral suppression than older age groups,” said Merhawi Gebrezgi, a Ph.D. student in epidemiology, who led this study.
Among the 2,872 youth, 65.4 percent were retained in care, and among those in care, 65 percent were virally suppressed, meaning the person's viral load was low enough so that their infection was not communicable.
“We found that older youth, between the ages of 18‒24 years old, and Non-Hispanic Blacks were less likely to be retained in care, and those diagnosed with AIDS before 2016 and Non-Hispanic Blacks were less likely to be virally suppressed,” said Gebrezgi.
“While our dataset did not allow us to examine the reasons for the lower retention and viral suppression among Non-Hispanic Black youth in Florida, possible reasons include stigma, experiences of discrimination, lower quality of patient-provider relationships, and psychosocial reasons.”
The study has important health implications.
“Given the low percentage of youth retained in care and virally suppressed, it is important to explore the reasons for low retention and viral suppression and develop targeted retention and viral suppression interventions to help improve the health of youth living with HIV in Florida and the health of their communities,” said Mary Jo Trepka, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, who supervised Gebrezgi’s work.
Read the full study in the International Journal of STD & AIDS.