Health and Human Services

Contacts: Kathy Barton
Porfirio Villarreal

HDHHS to receive $1 million grant to link HIV-positive people to health care

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) will use a new $1 million grant to find HIV-infected people who have stopped receiving health care and help link them to the medical treatment they need to stay healthy.

The three-year grant from the Merck Company Foundation will allow HDHHS to launch the Expanded Linkage to Care Initiative, an effort gathering health care providers, community groups and researches to develop community-wide coordination and data-matching programs that facilitate access to care.

“The Expanded Linkage to Care Initiative will improve the health of people living with HIV and reduce new infections in the Houston and Harris County area,” said Marlene McNeese-Ward, HDHHS’ bureau chief of HIV/STD and Viral Hepatitis Prevention.

HDHHS will accept the grant from Merck on Sunday, July 22, at the start of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

The initiative will focus on underserved populations, including blacks, the homeless and injection drug users.
Fifty-four percent of the 20,329 people diagnosed with HIV in Houston and Harris County are black. Approximately 8.5 percent of people with HIV or AIDS in the Houston area are homeless, but only 3 percent to 4 percent receive medical care.

Substance abuse is the most commonly cited reason for failing to receive care among Houston area people with HIV or AIDS. Houston-area youth and young adults have the greatest difficulty of any group in accessing primary medical care and have one of the lowest proportions of linkage to care within three months of diagnosis.

“Too many people living with HIV/AIDS are not getting the health care they need to stay healthy and contribute to healthy communities,” said Geralyn S. Ritter, senior vice president, Global Public Policy & Corporate Responsibility, Merck & Co., Inc. and president, The Merck Company Foundation. “Merck has a long-standing commitment to expanding access to health care and helping respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the HIV Care Collaborative reinforces this commitment here in the United States.”

HDHHS’ grant is part of Merck’s HIV Care Collaborative for Underserved Populations in the United States. Merck is awarding $3 million nationwide, including the public health departments in Atlanta, Philadelphia and Houston.  

Note: Marlene McNeese-Ward, bureau chief of HIV/STD and Viral Hepatitis Prevention, is available for interviews Thursday, July 19, from 9:45 a.m. to 11 a.m.