Researchers are using heatmaps to determine what areas of New York State are the most critically in need of HIV care. Northwell Health’s Center for AIDS Research and Treatment (CART) in Manhasset, New York has identified hot spots in in Long Island and Queens, according to an April 27 press release. The team will focus on promoting and improving prevention, treatment and education in those geographical areas.
A heatmap is a graphic that displays a multiple sets of data using colors to represent the numerical values, thereby visually illustrating areas with the highest rates of infection. Through algorithms, researchers can compare which areas struggle the most. Online tools allow anyone to input tables of data and generate custom heatmaps that show clusters or hot spots.
The areas of Hempstead, Westbury, Huntington Station and several areas in the borough of Queens have been identified as hot spots for HIV in the Long Island, New York area. According to the latest state data, 6,810 of Long Island’s residents are HIV-positive. CART estimates that about another 1,000 Long Island residents are HIV-positive but unaware. Queens is home to several hot spots in Rosedale and Eastern Queens, with about 18,000 HIV-positive residents. About 130,000 people are living with HIV in New York State.
A web-based software system called REDCap (Research Electronic Data Capture) uses surveys to collect data on a variety of subjects. "The software enables us to query, collect and analyze information regarding mental health issues, substance use, housing status and other social issues," McGowan stated. "We've linked that to levels of treatment compliance, adherence to appointments and viral suppression rates."
Northwell Health has a few solutions: One solution is to provide easier, more discreet ways of getting tested for HIV. Northwell will deploy a mobile health van in collaborations with Walgreen’s. Another solution is to provide education to women in high-risk neighborhoods, and recruit some of them to help further spread the message to their peers.
Critics were quick to blame Fire Island’s LGBTQ appeal and high number of LGBTQ businesses for the concentrated areas of HIV incidences. In addition, most of the hot spots are home to a high concentration of people of color. Across all American populations, people of color are most burdened with HIV, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
McGowan’s team is analyzing which ways work best in ending the areas that struggle the most. “We know where new HIV diagnoses and sexually transmitted infections are occurring, Dr. McGowan said, “We know where those who don’t have viral suppression live. We are working with community leaders to determine how to reach those affected and ways to engage them in care. We must work together to remove barriers to care.”
CART members also encourage people living with HIV to download the GET! App which helps to remind users about doctor appointments, daily medications and trips to the lab for lab results or bloodwork. The GET! app was developed by the team at Mount Sinai Applab and is currently available on Android and iOS — but only to study participants. The app is expected to become widely available to the public in 2019.
McGowan said that his team’s goal is to end the epidemic in the Long Island, New York area by 2010. By utilizing heatmap technology, McGowan and others are using the best tools possible to fight HIV in New York State.