UAB receives grant from Merck Foundation to address HIV disparities in the Southeast

UAB received a grant from the Merck Foundation to address HIV disparities in the Southeast.

HIV4Michael Mugavero, M.D., co-director of UAB’s CFAR and national program office director of HIV Care ConnectResearchers in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases and the Research Informatics Service Center at the Center for AIDS Research have been chosen as the national program office for HIV Care Connect. The new $7 million, five-year initiative is funded by the Merck Foundation. It is designed to help reduce disparities in access to care and improve health outcomes for persons with HIV living in vulnerable and underserved Southeastern United States communities. 

As the national program office, UAB will work with Care Resource in Miami, Florida, Medical Advocacy and Outreach in Montgomery, Alabama, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi, supported through the HIV Care Connect initiative. As the national program office, UAB will support the efforts of the grantee organizations and provide leadership in building a public-private partnership to reduce disparities in HIV care.

HIV Care Connect aims to improve linkage to and retention in high-quality HIV care for populations most impacted by HIV and build sustainable collaborations between the health care sector and other sectors to address access barriers in HIV care. It will also target improved health outcomes for persons living with HIV and disseminate key findings and program results to advance best practices in improving HIV care.

“We believe the HIV Care Connect initiative has the potential to be transformative in our region,” said Michael Mugavero, M.D., co-director of UAB’s CFAR and national program office director of HIV Care Connect. “The program will serve as a catalyst in advancing the objectives of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Ending the HIV Epidemic federal initiative.”

Certain populations face additional barriers to accessing high-quality HIV care, which results in substantial disparities that persist throughout the HIV care continuum. Reducing disparities in access to HIV care and treatment requires multilevel strategies to improve linkage to and long-term engagement in HIV care.

It also requires collaboration among local health organizations and community-based support agencies to address barriers to care associated with social determinants of health. These can include economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, stigma, social context, and trust in health care system. 

“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, M.D., executive vice president and chief patient officer at Merck. “Through HIV Care Connect, we are pleased to partner with UAB and help catalyze collaboration among organizations across the Southeastern United States and improve care coordination among people most affected by HIV.”

UAB CFAR is one of 19 Centers for AIDS Research established by the National Institutes of Health. A world leader in HIV/AIDS research and patient care, UAB’s CFAR has been among the first to make the newest, most effective treatments available to patients, including the combination therapy that today is the standard of care. The mission of the Research Informatics Service Center is to enhance well-being and promote health equity for individuals and communities through the identification, development, implementation and dissemination of approaches that build upon the strengths of an interdisciplinary team with integrated informatics and research expertise.