Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health are teaming up with colleagues at the University of Puerto Rico to improve access to testing, treatment and care for people living with HIV in the capital city, San Juan.
With support from the National Institutes of Health, the Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) and the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus (UPR-MSC) are launching two projects designed to address Puerto Ricoâ€™s urgent HIV problem as part of the federal governmentâ€™s Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative. The new grants are supported by an NIH program that aims to facilitate HIV implementation research in high-burden areas in the United States.
In the first project, a collaborative research team will work with men and women with HIV in San Juan to assess the feasibility of providing rapid oral fluid HIV self-test kits to partners of people living with HIV and to identify ways of overcoming existing barriers to treatment. Through focus groups and meetings, the team will also assess the feasibility of initiating Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV-negative partners.
â€œWe are very excited about the ways in which these supplements will allow us to build a collaborative relationship with our partners at the University of Puerto Rico, while addressing some of the â€œPillarsâ€� (Diagnose, Treat, Protect, and Respond) of the Ending the Epidemic initiative,â€� said Paul Cleary, the Anna M.R. Lauder Professor of Public Health, director of CIRA, and Yaleâ€™s principal investigator on the self-testing study.
The project is supported by a $172,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
In the second project, the researchers will develop education materials to increase awareness of the Undetectable=Untransmissible campaign among people living with HIV in San Juan. The materials will be introduced to care providers that support people living with or at risk of HIV to enhance their knowledge and skills related to the federal â€œTreatment as Preventionâ€� initiative and U=U message, which signifies that individuals with HIV who have achieved an undetectable viral load through antiretroviral therapy (ART) cannot sexually transmit the virus to others. The program will later be evaluated for possible expansion to a larger group of stakeholders.
YSPH Professor Trace Kershaw is Yaleâ€™s Principal Investigator on the study, which is supported by a separate $172,000 grant from NIH.
â€œThis second project will be an almost ideal complement to the first project and together, they will significantly increase our knowledge about how best to diagnose and treat vulnerable individuals in Puerto Rico,â€� Cleary said.
The University of Puerto Rico MSC research team is represented by Dr. Carmen Zorrilla, a leading HIV researcher and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the UPR School of Medicine; Associate Professor Silvia Rabionet, of the UPR Graduate School of Public Health; and Assistant Professor Marcilyn ColÃ³n-ColÃ³n of the UPR Graduate School of Public Health. They have partnered with several organizations who provide care to people living with HIV and an organization of patient activists as well. The first project was proposed by the partners of patients receiving care as an alternative to testing at clinical facilities.
The Yale Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS is New Englandâ€™s only AIDS research center funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. Faculty from Yaleâ€™s schools of public health, medicine, law and nursing, as well as the Yale Graduate School of Arts & Sciences contribute to CIRA research.
Yale University, particularly the Yale School of Medicine, has a long history of working for the betterment of Puerto Rico.
Daniel ColÃ³n-Ramos, an associate professor of neuroscience and cell biology in the School of Medicine, founded the nonprofit organization, Ciencia Puerto Rico, in 2006. The organization seeks to promote scholarly interaction and support research and science education in Puerto Rico. In 2015, ColÃ³n-Ramos, an outspoken advocate for strengthening Puerto Ricoâ€™s policies through rigorous science and evidence-based practices, launched the Yale Ciencia Academy for Career Development. The academy offers a free year-long program that provides Yale graduate students with mentoring, peer support and networking opportunities to help them advance their careers and contribute to their communities through science.
In 2017, after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, Dr. Marietta Vazquez, an associate professor of pediatrics at Yale, organized a community-wide relief effort that resulted in over 100,000 pounds of humanitarian assistanceâ€”including 15,000 pounds of antibiotics, gauze, surgical kits, medications and other medical suppliesâ€”to be airlifted to Puerto Rico.
You can learn more about Hurricane Mariaâ€™s long-term impact on Puerto Ricoâ€™s health care system by listening to this New England Journal of Medicine 2017 interview with Dr. Zorilla: https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMp1713196.
â€œWe are most pleased to grow our partnership with the University of Puerto Rico, Ciencia Puerto Rico, and the city of San Juan. Over 7 percent of the population of Connecticut is of Puerto Rican ancestry, the highest proportion of any U.S. state,â€� said Sten H. Vermund, dean of the Yale School of Public Health.