Roxbury health center chosen as part of national HIV program

By Miriam Valverde
Globe Correspondent / May 22, 2011

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A health center in Roxbury has been selected to be part of a newly created national program to educate and treat residents affected by HIV.

Whittier Street Health Center, which primarily serves blacks and Latinos, will be the only center in the state to participate in the HIV in Primary Care Learning Community program.

The program is part of President Obama’s national strategy to increase access to care while reducing cases and health disparities linked to HIV, according to a statement from the center.

“This is wonderful. It is recognition of the efforts of the work we have done so far to expand our reach to the community,’’ said Frederica Williams, president and CEO of Whittier Street Health Center. “It will deepen our ability to reduce disparity by expanding care at community level.’’

The $2.97 million national program, part of the AIDS Education and Training Centers National Center for HIV Care in Minority Communities, will last three years and will assist health centers across the country provide specialized care to people living with or affected by HIV, Williams said. Twenty-four centers were chosen through an application process.

Williams said the Whittier Street center acts as a “less formal entry point,’’ where patients can visit, gain confidence and be connected to hospitals and traditional care centers.

The program will be implemented in July, after officials from the centers have attended a training session in Washington.

“We will be learning from the best, and we will be learning from an evidence-based primary care system,’’ she said.

The program will provide centers with screening and testing tools. A patient navigation program will further assist people once they have been diagnosed, Williams said.

“Our focus is around the harder-to-reach population,’’ she said.

Roxbury’s reports of new HIV cases are among the highest in Boston’s neighborhoods, Williams said.

According to the Boston Public Health Commission’s “Health of Boston 2010 Report,’’ more black and Latino adults reported being tested for HIV than white adults. In 2008, the year covered by the report, 73 percent of blacks reported being tested, compared to 64 percent of Latinos, 51 percent of whites, and 27 percent of Asians.

Brian Hujdich, principal investigator of the national program, said in a press release that he was excited at the prospect of working with Whittier.

“Our work will also increase the number of people who know their HIV status by building on current HIV testing and screening efforts and linking Bostonians living with HIV to care,’’ said Hujdich, who is also executive director of the HealthHIV, a national nonprofit organization that works to help prevent HIV, as well as care for those living with or at risk for HIV.