School of Medicine Conducts First HIV “Test and Treat” Model

Josey Tsao/UCSD Guardian

Researchers from the UCSD School of Medicine are conducting the first “test and treat” model of HIV prevention in its “Lead the Way” campaign — a nine-month project to test adults living in the 92103 and 92104 zip codes, which include Hillcrest and North Park.

The campaign is part of a project to demonstrate that testing and treating for HIV will help control it within a community, Medicine Professor Susan Little said.

She said that if people are encouraged to test for HIV, HIV-positive patients are offered treatment and high-risk individuals are tested annually, the risks associated with acquiring and transmitted HIV can be reduced.

On June 6, researchers will launch a campaign in which testers from UCSD’s Antiviral Research Center will visit randomly-selected residential areas and offer finger-prick testing either in people’s homes or in mobile testing rooms. The results will be delivered on the spot. There will also be tests at a center in Hillcrest. People who don’t want to be tested can take a survey.

Researchers will ask everyone — regardless of whether they are likely to contract HIV— to see if they will test for HIV if the test is made readily available. Those who are HIV positive will be treated with antiretroviral medications, which treat retroviruses like HIV.

“What we’re trying to do is move HIV testing out of a high-risk environment in which people get tested only if they think they’re in a high-risk category,” Little said, “[Then we] figure out a way to make HIV testing generally acceptable within the communities we live in independent of risk, so that we can help identify people who are infected and unaware of their infection status.”

Little hopes the information will reveal the biggest barriers and motivators that make people get tested for HIV.

These barriers to testing include inefficient programs, unaffordable treatment and concerns over fear and discrimination.

Potential motivators for people to get tested include easier testing strategies that reduce the anxiety caused by waiting for results, or home-testing to promote anonymity and security.

“The goal is to try and have a representative sample within the community from which we can generalize HIV statistics and willingness to participate in this community,” Little said.

The current phase of the one-year “test-and-treat” study focuses on encouraging people to get tested, and treatment will follow after researchers learn about the motivators and barriers to HIV testing.

“We want everyone represented in this study so that we can make predictable estimates of what the HIV prevalence and incidence are in the 92103 [and] 92104 community,” Little said.

She added that the progress in developing a vaccine is slow, so researchers want to demonstrate that they can slow the spread of HIV without a vaccine.

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