(April 23, 2019) – Lead author Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPH, RN, Interim  Dean and Dorothy T. Nicholson Distinguished Professor at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth, has published a new study examining pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) knowledge and attitudes about HIV among 1,427 young adults experiencing homelessness in seven U.S. cities in 2016-17.

Diane Santa Maria, Charlene A. Flash, Sarah Narendorf, Anamika Barman-Adhikari, Robin Petering, Hsun-Ta Hsu, Jama Shelton, Kimberly Bender, Kristin Ferguson. Knowledge and Attitudes About Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Among Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness in Seven U.S. Cities. Journal of Adolescent Health, May 2019. 64(5), 109-112. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2018.06.023

Although evidence indicates that young adults experiencing homelessness are at elevated risk of HIV compared to housed youth, only 14 percent of those sampled in the survey strongly agreed that they try to protect themselves from getting infected with HIV.

While 84 percent of participants were eligible for PrEP based on risk, only 29 percent had knowledge of PrEP. Despite this, 59 percent reported they were likely/extremely likely to take pre-exposure prophylaxis.

Participants in the cross-sectional survey were primarily male youth of color. The mean age was 20.9 years.  The study locations selected were: Houston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, San Jose and St. Louis.

Study results suggest missed opportunities to prevent new HIV infections among young adults experiencing homelessness.  The authors recommend that efforts to increase PrEP uptake among this population should consider provider- and system-level interventions to increase PrEP awareness, decrease PrEP-associated healthcare costs, improve access to PrEP providers, and provide in-person and text messaging support.

The article was accompanied by an editorial, “Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for Homeless Youth: A Rights-Based Perspective,” saying that Santa Maria’s study “demonstrates a staggering unmet need and clear health inequity.”  The editorial’s author quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt and called for “a new New Deal” for America’s young adults experiencing homelessness to resolve “extreme health inequities” typical of their situation.

“Never had that happen – very cool,” said Santa Maria, the John P. McGovern Distinguished Professor in Nursing, said about drawing editorial support from a journal. “Another nice thing is that my new R01 study will directly address this human rights issue.”

Santa Maria will be inducted as a Fellow in the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine during the next SAHM annual meeting, March 11-14, 2020 in San Diego, Cal. The award, currently honoring only 170 organization members with the designation FSAHM, acknowledges her long-standing commitment to the health and welfare of adolescents and a willingness to advocate on their behalf.