As many as 30 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. do not return to the doctor to start receiving care after their initial diagnosis, according to research by the CDC. Many factors could be the reason for this — things like a lack of health coverage, or emotional issues like fear, denial, or lack of a support system. But a new program in Broward County, Florida, aims to cut through the red tape and help close this gap by getting on treatment the very same day they are diagnosed.
“We want to close the loop and take that patient right over to be linked to care and get started on medication the same day,” Dr. Deberenia Allen told CBS Miami, who is the director for Memorial’s Rapid HIV Testing program in Dania, FL.
The program, called “Test And Treat,” was put forth by Florida’s Department of Health in Broward County, in partnership with the Ryan White Part A program. With Test And Treat, which began on May 1st, FDOH-Broward staffers can meet up with an individual who has just been diagnosed, and will actually go with them to a physician for a follow-up exam. They will then accompany them to a pharmacy for a 30-day supply of medication. The staffer will also request that the individual take their first pill that day. Even if they do not have health coverage, the individual will still receive the medication through the federally funded Ryan White program.
And the program is not just for the newly diagnosed. Test And Treat also aims to get people back on care after a long gap, or to get them on treatment if they never went back to the doctor after their initial diagnosis. The program eliminates many issues which often prevent people from getting care, such as long waits for follow-up test and doctor’s appointments.
The program also aims to be very effective in using the treatment-as-prevention (TasP) method. Getting an individual immediately on antiretroviral medication is beneficial in many ways. The sooner they start takings their meds, the more easily the virus is suppressed in the body — which not only reduces their chances of developing AIDS, but will increase their chances of becoming “undetectable.” This means one’s viral load has reached undetectable levels, which means there is then an almost zero chance of transmitting the virus. It’s also proven that people who start treatment immediately have a much higher chance of staying on treatment.