A new collaborative research program pairing the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH) AIDS Activities Coordinating Office (AACO) with Penn’s Leonard Davis Institute and the Penn Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) has announced the award of four pilot grants for evaluating existing or potential new programs that could augment the city’s response to the HIV epidemic.

Part of PDPH’s comprehensive “Ending the HIV Epidemic” campaign, the one-year grants went to four Penn faculty scientists who are also Senior or Associate Fellows at LDI.

Important Public Health Initiative

“Everyone on Penn’s side is gratified to be a direct part of such an important initiative and a project that affects people with HIV across the city,” said LDI Executive Director Rachel M. Werner, MD, PhD. “This kind of real-world collaboration with the City of Philadelphia focused on a front-line challenge in health care delivery is among the most exciting and rewarding kinds of science a researcher can engage in. We have been delighted to work with Ron Collman and Robert Gross from CFAR to make this connection with PDPH. Congratulations to the grant winners and we look forward to the results from this team effort.

The four winning projects are:

Feasibility and Acceptability of Harm-Reduction Vending Machines in Philadelphia

Rebecca Stewart

Principal Investigator: Rebecca Stewart, PhD, LDI Senior Fellow, Assistant Professor, Penn Center for Mental Health, Perelman School of Medicine

Harm-reduction interventions are an integral part of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s “Ending the HIV Epidemic in Philadelphia,” an aspirational, multi-pronged community plan aligned with federal initiatives to reduce new HIV infections. This project will assess the potential local use of vending machines containing harm-reduction materials (VMHR). Included would be safe injection kits (with and without syringes), wound care, naloxone, pre-exposure prophylaxis medications (PrEP), condoms, and HIV self-tests.

Evaluating the Implementation of Low-Threshold PrEP Services in Sexual Wellness Clinics

Stephen Bonett

Principal Investigator: Stephen Bonett, PhD, RN, LDI Associate Fellow, Postdoctoral Fellow, Program on Sexuality, Technology, and Action Research (PSTAR), Penn School of Nursing

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a safe and effective method for preventing HIV infection, but significant barriers exist to achieving widespread uptake of PrEP among those at risk of acquiring HIV. The Philadelphia Department of Health has launched a network of sexual wellness clinics throughout the city aimed at providing low-threshold access to sexual health services and rapid links to PrEP care. This research will evaluate the initial implementation of PrEP services in these clinics, examining barriers and facilitators to use.

Resulting Product:

Building on Success: Increasing Rates of HIV Screening in Philadelphia Emergency Departments

Nancy Aitcheson

Principal Investigator: Nancy Aitcheson, MD, LDI Associate Fellow, MSHP Student and Fellow, Infectious Disease, Perelman School of Medicine

Recent Philadelphia-wide data suggests that 11% of residents living with HIV are unaware of their diagnosis, and this group accounts for 39% of HIV transmission in the city. Currently, routine opt-out screening in hospital emergency departments is an underutilized strategy to diagnose these individuals and link them to care. This work will use “implementation mapping” to identify barriers and facilitators to routine, opt-out HIV testing. Included will be an implementation needs assessment and the development of related implementation strategies, protocols, and evaluations.

Enhancing HIV testing and PrEP Delivery in Substance Use Disorder Treatment Programs

Daniel Teixeira da Silva
da Silva

Principal Investigator: Daniel Teixeira da Silva, MD, LDI Associate Fellow, Fellow, National Clinician Scholars Program, Perelman School of Medicine

Since 2016, Philadelphia has experienced a 151% increase in HIV among people who inject drugs. The Philadelphia Department of Health recommends that injectable drug users be tested for HIV every three months. Frequent HIV testing can facilitate early linkage to HIV care or initiation of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). However, only 28.5% of users have been tested in the last three months. This work is an implementation science approach to enhancing testing and PrEP delivery in substance use disorder treatment programs.