Last November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released what the HIV/AIDS community already knew to be true: Only 25 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. have their disease under control. Lack of access to medication and cost of meds were among the main contributing barriers.
But a new study from the University of California-San Francisco provides some other reasons. By studying 288 men living with HIV/AIDS who were homeless or in unstable housing situations, researchers found that basic necessities such as food, housing and clean clothes had the largest effect on mental and physical health -- topping drug abuse, viral load and lack of access to meds. Other findings included:
- Researchers gave participants physical and mental health scores based on a scale of 0 to 100. The median physical health score was 43 and the median mental health score was 46.
- Researchers then determined the effects of various positive and negative influences on the participants' health. Not having basic needs had the biggest impact, lowering the physical health score by 3.8 percent and mental health score by 3.5 percent. Regular use of antiretroviral drugs improved the mental health score by 1.7 percent but had a negligible effect on the physical health score.
The San Francisco Gate reported on the study:
[For] many very poor patients, being homeless keeps them from getting consistent drug treatment at all.
Basic human needs must be addressed in parallel with HIV treatment if patients are going to stay healthy, said Elise Riley, lead author of the study. And until these needs are addressed, and the poorest HIV-positive patients are able to manage their illness, the virus will continue to circulate in the United States, she added.
"We're willing to spend all this money on medication, but it's not going to be doing as much good if we don't have more opportunities for housing or other needs," said Riley, an associate professor in the UCSF HIV/AIDS division at San Francisco General Hospital.
Brad Hare, M.D. and medical director of San Francisco General Hospital's HIV clinic, told the Gate, "We're always struggling with people who need to be on HIV treatment for their health but that's not the priority. This study validates what we've seen. It recognizes just how important the structural barriers are to HIV care."
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