Darren L. Whitfield

Darren Whitfield, PhD, MSW, heads this National Institutes of Health-funded project aimed at increasing the utilization of pre-exposure prophylaxis among Black men who have sex with men.

The University of Maryland School of Social Work (UMSSW) is set to embark on a significant research project aimed at increasing the utilization of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among Black men who have sex with men (MSM). Addressing the pressing issue of elevated HIV infection rates among Black MSM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has allocated a significant $3.77 million toward the research project, signifying an essential move in offering much-needed backing for this disproportionately affected demographic.

Despite being the group with the highest rates of HIV acquisition in the United States, Black MSM have the lowest rates of PrEP utilization. The new research project seeks to address this disparity by exploring innovative methods to support the use of PrEP. This lifesaving treatment has been underutilized and insufficiently tested within this population.

The study will examine the potential benefits of a client-centered care coordination (C4) intervention model. This model, piloted in the NIH-funded HIV Prevention Trials Network 073 study, showed early signs of promise, but requires further evaluation.

The research project, led by Darren L. Whitfield, PhD, MSW, associate professor at UMSSW, will unfold in real-world clinical settings in Washington, D.C., and New York City. It will strive to determine the efficacy of C4 for increasing PrEP adherence among Black MSM, identify the optimal dose of C4 implementation for maximizing its effect on PrEP adherence, and assess the acceptability and feasibility of C4 implementation in community settings.

Whitfield said, "Pre-exposure prophylaxis [PrEP] was approved over 11 years ago as an effective tool to prevent HIV infections among individuals at greater risk for HIV acquisition. Yet, we continue to see disparities and inequities in both the use and adherence to PrEP, particularly among Black men who have sex with men (MSM). This study is designed to determine if an intervention that provides psychosocial services to Black MSM will increase adherence and persistence to PrEP. Our overall vision is to address barriers to PrEP use among Black MSM and hopefully reduce new HIV infections in this community.”

The findings of this trial are anticipated to result in an intervention tailored for Black MSM, which can be implemented in community settings to increase PrEP use and adherence. This aligns with the NIH priority to reduce HIV incidence and tackle structural and psychosocial barriers to care, thereby reducing health care disparities.

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