Social Work’s Darren Whitfield Receives National Institute of Mental Health Grant

A man with glasses, a yellow shirt and suspenders

University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work Assistant Professor Darren Whitfield received a $443,533 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the relationship between psychosocial factors (depressive symptomatology, substance use, social support, perceived HIV risk) and adherence and persistence to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among young Black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM).  

Young Black MSM continue to experience a disproportionate rate of HIV infections in the United States. HIV PrEP is a biomedical prevention intervention shown to reduce risk of HIV infection; however, studies suggest young Black MSM are less likely to be prescribed PrEP and have significantly lower levels of adherence to PrEP compared to white MSM. PrEP use among young Black MSM is estimated at between 3%-20%. In addition to concerns with adherence, persistence on PrEP among young Black MSM is low, with discontinuation rates ranging between 17% to 22% within six months of starting PrEP.

This study will examine the factors associated with long-term adherence to PrEP in young Black MSM in Atlanta, a city with a large concentration of young Black MSM impacted by HIV. The study is a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. 

“Currently there is an explosion of activity in the development of PrEP products. This study is important because irrespective of the administration of PrEP, adherence will always be the determining factor for maintaining HIV-negative. Ultimately, the goal of this study is to determine intervention opportunities which will increase adherence and persistence and lead to a decrease in HIV infections among young Black MSM,” said Whitfield.

The co-principal investigator of this study is Jeb Jones at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and the co-investigator for the study is Patrick Sullivan at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. Further collaborators in the study include Positive Impact Health Centers, NAESM Inc. and the Fulton County Board of Health.