$2.16M Grant Funds Study of Disproportionate HIV Infection Rates Among Women of Color

Oct. 8, 2018
Jim McMahon

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center have been awarded a $2.16 million grant to study disproportionately high HIV infection rates affecting women of color.

Women account for 20 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. each year, with the vast majority of those infections occurring in black and Hispanic women. Although they make up 30 percent of the female population, black and Hispanic women comprise 77 percent of all new HIV cases among women.

Gender-based social inequalities and men’s control over prevention methods, such as condoms, have traditionally limited the HIV protective options available to women. The development of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which can be taken as a once-daily pill under the brand name Truvada, provided a commercially available and highly effective prevention method that can be independently controlled by women. Yet, only 4 percent of females at high risk of HIV take the drug.

Despite being at the highest risk, black and Hispanic women are statistically the least likely to take PrEP.

“Women of color confront dual HIV-related health disparities: They have disproportionately high rates of HIV infection but disproportionately low rates of PrEP use for HIV prevention,” said the study’s lead investigator, James McMahon, PhD, associate professor and endowed chair for innovation in health care at the School of Nursing.

“Our study, conducted in New York City and Rochester, will help to understand the multitude of reasons underlying these disparities and provide evidence to develop tailored HIV prevention interventions and services for women at risk.”

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will enroll more than 300 women who either take or are eligible for PrEP and assess survey and health data quarterly over a 12-month period. Researchers will also conduct interviews with more than a dozen clinical providers to explore how providers’ attitudes, practices, and environments shape PrEP adherence and patient interactions.

Other URMC investigators on the grant are Amy Braksmajer, PhD, postdoctoral associate in the School of Nursing; Brent Johnson, PhD, associate professor of biostatistics; Natalie Leblanc, PhD, MPH, RN, BSN, assistant professor of nursing; LaRon Nelson, PhD, RN, FNP, FNAP, FAAN, assistant professor of nursing, and Chen Zhang, PhD, MPH, postdoctoral associate in the School of Nursing.