The Merck Foundation has announced the launch of a five-year, $7 million initiative aimed at reducing disparities in access to care for those living with HIV in underserved communities in the Southeast.
Led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the HIV Care Connect initiative will work to implement evidence-based programs that promote connections to and long-term engagement with high-quality HIV care for populations most affected by the disease; build collaborations between the healthcare sector and other sectors to address barriers related to social determinants of health; engage communities in programs designed to ensure that interventions are effectively tailored to address local needs; and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV, particularly those in underserved communities. A portion of the funds also will support an independent evaluation to assess the impact of the initiative and its programs.
While the number of new HIV cases in the United States is falling, the disease continues to disproportionately affect certain populations and regions. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all people newly diagnosed with HIV live in the South and approximately three-quarters of those identify as people of color. Initial grant recipients include Care Resource in Miami; Medical Advocacy and Outreach in Montgomery, Alabama; and the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi.
"We need to accelerate solutions that address the growing disparities in patients' access to HIV care and health outcomes and focus on communities that are most affected," said Julie Louise Gerberding, executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck and a former director of the CDC. "Through HIV Care Connect, the Merck Foundation is helping to catalyze collaboration among organizations across the southeastern United States and improve care coordination among people most affected by HIV."