Making Universal, Free-of-Charge Antiretroviral Therapy Work for Sexual and Gender Minority Youth in Brazil

Multiple Principal Investigators
Katie Biello, PhD, MPH
Matthew Mimiaga, ScD, MPH (University of California Los Angeles)

Sponsor: National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute on Mental Health

Grant Number: R34MH126894

Sexual and gender minority (SGM) youth account for the largest number of incident HIV infections in Brazil. Although HIV can be managed with ongoing antiretroviral therapy (ART), exceptionally high levels of adherence are required. Brazil has implemented a comprehensive HIV treatment program with broad access to ART, but this program does not specifically address barriers to optimal ART adherence, particularly for SGM youth who experience many challenges taking their medication as prescribed.

This project seeks to develop and pilot test a theory-based, integrated technology and counseling intervention to improve ART adherence among HIV infected SGM youth (ages 15-24) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The intervention aims to improve social support, self-efficacy for taking ART, and teach skills for problem-solving barriers to promote better adherence. To inform the content, structure, and format of the proposed intervention, the MPIs recently conducted focus groups with SGM youth (N = 18) and key informant interviews (N = 7) with medical providers and staff at local HIV service organizations working closely with SGM youth in Rio de Janeiro. Across focus groups and key informant interviews there was universal agreement that an intervention should capitalize on and enhance social support structures among SGM youth, and address their specific concerns, especially as related to the individual (e.g., ART side effects, mood, substance use), social (e.g., HIV/SGM stigma), and structural (e.g., clinic hours, transportation challenges) barriers that they regularly face.

The intervention is guided by Social Cognitive and Social Support Theories and is grounded in the social and contextual realities of SGM youth living with HIV in Brazil. Specifically, social support is emphasized and informational, problem-solving and cognitive-behavioral “steps” are addressed over 4-group adherence counseling sessions, which include short video vignettes that seek to normalize adherence challenges. In addition, daily tailored SMS text messages are delivered as part of the intervention to facilitate social-cognitive cues to take medications as prescribed.

Research Plan
Phase 1: Refine and enhance participant acceptability of the intervention and resolve any issues with intervention delivery/implementation; this will be achieved by convening and obtaining feedback from our youth community advisory board throughout this phase and subsequent phases; and by conducting an open-phase pilot with up to 12 SGM youth, with post-intervention exit interviews, as well as obtaining feedback from our youth community advisory board throughout this and subsequent phases.

Phase 2: Examine, in a pilot randomized controlled trial, the feasibility, acceptability and potential impact of the proposed intervention among 72 SGM youth who will be equally randomized to the intervention or a time- and attention-matched control condition with standard of care. The outcomes are improved ART adherence (Wisepill, pharmacy assessment and self-report), retention in care and viral load suppression. Study assessments will be conducted at baseline, 3- and 6-months.

Accordion Location