Zarek Bell, Master of Public Administration candidate at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, recently discussed the work of the Ohio HIV Needs Assessment. The assessment is being conducted through the joint efforts of the Ohio Department of Health, Ryan White Program, and the Voinovich School’s Partnership for Children and Families, led by Dr. Lesli Johnson.
“The purpose of the needs assessment is to guide funding and uncover gaps in HIV care in high risk populations and to improve HIV care and prevention in Ohio across the board,” Bell said.
Starting in 2017, the needs assessment team conducted focus groups and nearly 90 phone interviews with people living with HIV/AIDS and individuals at high-risk for contracting the virus. This phase was designed to identify aspects affecting the variables of the HIV care continuum.
“The Voinovich School is proud to partner with Ohio’s Department of Health to look at this important health issue in an effort to improve the quality of life and health for all Ohioans,” Johnson said.
The year-one findings uncovered six domains that affect individuals’ HIV care journey: prevention, diagnosis, linkage to care, retention in care, antiretroviral therapy initiation and viral suppression. Bell identified stigma, mental health issues and lack of education as persistent barriers in all domains affecting individuals’ desire to seek and stay in care.
“Stigma is something that affects the entire continuum of HIV care. It is persistent and has evolved with the times,” Bell said.
Suggestions to combat these issues included increasing education, ensuring positive patient/provider relationships, ensuring confidentiality, routine depression screenings, and increased training of HIV case workers.
One of the most prominent findings of the year-one phase was the disparity in care amongst individuals living with HIV. For example, the likelihood of contracting HIV is higher in areas with low socio-economic statuses.
“People that need care the most are experiencing the most lapse in care,” Bell noted.
Currently in the second year of the assessment, the focus is now on creating a survey to be deployed statewide to those living with HIV/AIDS or who are at high-risk, using the data gathered from year one.
Finally, next year will consist of a statewide survey of HIV care providers designed to assess the findings of year two and determine the readiness to meet these identified needs and gaps in care.
For more information on the Ohio HIV Needs Assessment contact Dr. Lesli Johnson.