Optimizing Community-Based HIV Testing and Linkage to Care for Young Persons in Metropolitan Atlanta

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HIV continuum of care analyses in Georgia during 2013 revealed that 82% of adolescents and adults living with HIV knew their diagnosis and that 75% were linked to care. However, of all persons in Georgia living with HIV in 2014, only 60% had at least one HIV care visit, and just 48% were retained in care. Understanding barriers for HIV testing, linkage, and retention in youth may strengthen HIV-related encounters and improve patient outcomes. We conducted 17 qualitative focus groups with HIV-positive and -negative youth, ages 18-24 years, from the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area. Using computer-assisted thematic analyses, we examined focus group responses on ways to approach youth for community-based HIV testing and how service providers should discuss a new positive HIV diagnosis with youth. Of 68 participants, 85% were male, 90% were African American, 68% were HIV positive, and 50% had high school education or less. Mean age was 21.5 years (standard deviation: 1.8 years). Thematic analyses identified the following three key themes for approaching someone for HIV testing: (1) discretion, (2) being candid about testing, and (3) incentivizing testing. When service providers discuss an HIV positive test, participants recommended enhanced emotional support and reassurance of a potential healthy life span despite an HIV diagnosis. Community-based testing may be a viable option for increasing HIV screening of at-risk youth. Structuring an empathetic new diagnosis disclosure that addresses potential misconceptions and describes successful HIV treatment is essential to improving linkage to care among youth.

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