First couples HIV prevention strategy for gay men to roll out in major cities

NEW YORK, NY–(Marketwired – Oct 17, 2013) – Today, Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health announced that it is transitioning management of a valuable, new HIV training program to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Brought to life with funding from the MAC AIDS Fund and modeled after a successful HIV testing program in Africa, the training prepares local HIV/AIDS organizations and health departments to deliver the first-ever couples HIV testing and counseling service in the United States for gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men. The new service — called “Testing Together” — enables male couples to learn their HIV status together and develop a customized HIV prevention and care strategy at no charge in most locations. After the transition, CDC will roll out the training — which has been successfully piloted in several major U.S. cities — to organizations across the country.

“Most HIV prevention programs focus on individuals or groups of gay men when, in fact, most new HIV infections come from main partners in a relationship. Our ‘Testing Together’ program is the first HIV testing service geared specifically toward meeting the needs of male couples,” said Patrick Sullivan, DVM, PhD and Professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. “We’re happy that our collaboration with CDC is bringing this program to more HIV organizations in major cities throughout the nation. Bringing this service to scale for male couples was made possible by the generous support of the MAC AIDS Fund.”

In 2009, Sullivan and his colleagues at CDC conducted research that estimated one-to two-thirds of new HIV infections came from main partners among gay couples. Follow-up research, supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and conducted by Emory University, found that a significant number of men in longer-term relationships were unaware of their partner’s HIV status. In fact, many gay men in relationships believed that they were less at risk for HIV and were therefore less likely to have been recently tested for HIV. NIH-supported research showed that providing HIV testing for male couples was promising, but bringing this new service to men beyond the initial study in Atlanta would be a challenge.

To encourage awareness and combat a growing rate of new HIV infections among gay men in the United States, Emory engaged the MAC AIDS Fund in March 2011 to provide startup funding to pilot the innovative “Testing Together” program in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, San Diego and Seattle. Designed to prevent new infections and improve linkage to care, the program trains HIV community-support organizations in testing and counseling skills specifically for gay couples, including ways to cope with an HIV-positive status, maintain safer behaviors between partners and help navigate treatment when one or both partners is found to be HIV-positive.

“Even with the game changing strides made in AIDS treatment as a means of preventing HIV, we cannot end the epidemic without equally powerful breakthroughs in HIV behavioral prevention for people heavily affected by HIV like gay and bisexual men,” said Nancy Mahon, global executive director of the MAC AIDS Fund. “For this reason, the MAC AIDS Fund will continue to invest in innovative and effective initiatives like Emory’s ‘Testing Together’ program, and we are so gratified that the CDC will be bringing this program to scale to reach more people nationwide.”

Following Emory’s successful pilot program, CDC became interested in taking over the “Testing Together” program and expanding training for additional, major cities with high HIV prevalence in the United States. Emory University remains engaged in supporting training and technical assistance through its collaboration with CDC. To date, more than 300 HIV counselors have been trained at 73 testing sites in 21 cities, and more than 450 gay couples have learned their HIV status together. As a result, more than 8 percent of men tested were HIV-positive with at least 10 percent in previously undiagnosed discordant relationships where one partner is HIV positive and the other is not.

As a result of the multi-sectoral collaboration between Emory, MAC AIDS Fund and CDC, “Testing Together” will be rolling out in major cities in the U.S. to bring the first HIV testing service to male couples. In preparation for the transition, CDC has initiated partnerships with more than 18 key cities to date and will continue to build capacity at health departments and with the nation’s public health workforce to implement this training. In the future, “Testing Together” will be adapted for use with other types of couples as well. To learn more, visit the new Couples HIV Testing and Counseling section on the CDC’s Effective Interventions website or find a testing and counseling center offering couples testing at TestingTogether.org.

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