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Grant to help University Health System in fight to end South Texas’ HIV epidemic

A federal grant will bolster University Health System’s efforts to end the spread of HIV in Bexar and surrounding counties.

The $200,000 grant funds the new campaign, “Stay in the Game: What’s Your Score?”, an outreach effort to connect people living with HIV/AIDS to healthcare.

“The virus’ increase is mostly among young people, and it’s very hard to connect them to care,” said Dr. Roberto Villarreal, University Health System’s senior vice president of Research & Information Management. “Once they get into care, we can control the viral load and the virus will not spread.”

Dr. Villarreal is directing the grant along with Dr. Anna Taranova, executive director of research, and Leah Meraz, senior director of Ryan White programs.

“Stay in the Game: What’s Your Score?” will use social media, a new app and a website to extend education and outreach – particularly to the estimated 800-1,300 people in the four-county area who are undiagnosed. The education efforts will raise awareness, reduce stigma and improve access to HIV/AIDS care in Bexar, Comal, Guadalupe and Wilson counties.

More than 6,000 people in this area are diagnosed and living with HIV/AIDS, of which University Health System cares for more than 4,000 through its clinics and others that contract its services.

“Once people get into treatment, they can live normal lives,” Dr. Villarreal said. “We have people in their 50s who are living with HIV and their main health concern is hypertension.”

“We have HIV-positive mothers giving birth to HIV-negative children,” said Dr. Taranova.

The grant, which starts July 1 and lasts two years, is through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). This is one of only 10 metropolitan areas across the nation that received funding. The grant supports University Health System’s work through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program Part A.

People living with HIV/AIDS who consistently take their antiretroviral medication are unlikely to transmit the virus. “Stay in the Game” aligns with University Health System’s strategic plan to reach more non-virally suppressed and newly diagnosed people living with HIV. It will be coordinated with other services provided by University Health System and our partners.

University Health System currently receives more than $16 million in federal and state funds to provide services for people living with HIV/AIDS through a 28-county region in Central and South Texas. The Family Focused AIDS Clinical Treatment Services (FFACTS) clinic is the region’s largest HIV clinic and is funded in part by the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS program.

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