The National Institutes of Health (NIH) said that it will fund a series of collaborations with medical research institutions in the region as part of a new initiative that will expand ongoing research at the NIH-funded Centers for AIDS Research, a group of HIV-focused research institutions focused on reducing the burden of HIV domestically and globally.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) will fund HIV care and prevention research in the southern United States, which has the highest rates of new HIV cases, people living with HIV, and HIV-related deaths of any US region.
The institute said that it will fund a series of collaborations with medical research institutions in the region as part of a new initiative that will expand upon ongoing research at the National Institutes of Health—funded Centers for AIDS Research (CFARs), a group of HIV-focused research institutions aiming to reduce the burden of HIV domestically and globally.
“The Centers for AIDS Research are our research boots on the ground, working in diverse communities nationwide,” said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director, NIAID, in a statement. “This new initiative harnesses their local expertise to design smart, innovative ways to fill the gaps in HIV treatment and prevention care that are pervasive in the US South.”
According to the institute, because much of the research infrastructure is already in place, the new effort will allow critical findings with modest funding. They estimate that each locality could compete to receive up to $300,000 per year.
Through the effort, CFARs in the South will leverage their already existing relationships with local authorities, as well as community-based groups, programs of the CDC, and the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. By collaborating with these partners, the CFARs hope to be able to identify and evaluate strategies to help connect people at risk of or living with HIV with prevention services and medical care and help ensure they maintain their engagement in care.
The initiative will also focus on treatment, specifically antiretroviral therapy, which, when adhered to, suppresses HIV infection to undetectable levels. They will also place an emphasis on both pre-exposure prophylaxis, which reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by more than 95% when adhered to, and postexposure prophylaxis, which can prevent HIV infection if begun within 3 days of exposure and taken for an additional 28 days.
“Interventions that demonstrate success in test counties could be scaled-up elsewhere,” the institute wrote.
The South has remained a crucial target for reaching goals for ending the HIV epidemic, with persistent disparities among diagnosis rates, as well as linkage to prevention and treatment. While the region accounted for more than half (52%) of all new HIV diagnoses in 2016, it accounted for just 30% of pre-exposure prophylaxis users.