White receives five-year NIH award to study and improve HIV testing in North Carolina

Becky L. White, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases, has been awarded a five-year career developmental award from the NIH to understand barriers to routine HIV testing among physicians in North Carolina.

White receives five-year NIH award to study and improve HIV testing in North Carolina click to enlarge Becky White, MD, MPH

In the United States, about one out of every five people infected with HIV do not know that they are infected. In addition, patients are often diagnosed at advanced stages. In North Carolina, about half of HIV-infected patients who come to the infectious disease clinic at UNC Hospitals are diagnosed with AIDS within a year of their HIV diagnosis.

Recent research out of UNC has demonstrated that proper treatment for HIV with antiretroviral therapy renders people virtually non-contagious, making early diagnosis all the more critical. As a result, the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government bodies now recommend that all adolescents and adults routinely be screened for HIV. Previously, HIV screening was recommended for people with certain risk factors, such as men who have sex with men, sex workers, injection drug users and heterosexuals with multiple partners.

“Despite the new recommendations, we have learned from local and national surveys that expanded HIV testing is not being widely implemented,” said White, who also co-directs HIV services for the North Carolina Department of Corrections. With this award, White will administer the first statewide survey of HIV screening practices among primary care physicians.

Based on the results, she will develop an intervention to increase routine HIV screening in North Carolina. “The goal is to get people diagnosed early and on treatment,” she said. “Widespread HIV testing is the first step to reducing the spread of HIV in our state.”

“This award recognizes Dr. White as a highly promising investigator,” said White’s mentor, Carol Golin, MD, associate professor of medicine at UNC. “With the results of her statewide survey, she and others can design interventions for improving access to HIV screening and care and hopefully reduce ethnic-racial disparities in HIV outcomes.”

The southeastern United States continues to have the largest number of people living with HIV. Although North Carolina has seen an 18 percent decline in the number of new diagnoses, “there has been a shift of the epidemic to young men of color who do not come in for routine HIV screening,” said Peter Leone, MD, MPH, medical director of the North Carolina HIV/STD Prevention and Control Branch and UNC professor of medicine. “Dr. White's research will provide critical information to help us understand why more people aren’t getting tested.”


Media contact: Lisa Chensvold, 919-843-5719, lisa_chensvold@med.unc.edu