April 17, 2024

Inequities in HIV Testing, Diagnosis, and Care for Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

Disparities in HIV testing, diagnosis, and care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have emerged as a significant concern. Despite being at higher risk for exposure to HIV due to various barriers in accessing healthcare, this population often faces neglect in prevention and testing efforts. A misconception that individuals with intellectual disabilities are mostly asexual perpetuates the inadequate provision of HIV testing and education for them.

Researchers from the University of Michigan Health conducted an extensive epidemiological study to shed light on the gaps in HIV care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The findings have revealed stark disparities, particularly for Black patients and those with autism and co-occurring intellectual disabilities.

The study demonstrated that individuals with autism and an intellectual disability, as well as Black individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, often face worse care outcomes. This is primarily because they are not tested as frequently for HIV and encounter disparities in receiving HIV-related treatment.

Tyler G. James, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of family medicine at U-M Medical School, emphasized the misguided belief that patients with intellectual disabilities do not require HIV testing or education due to asexuality assumptions. This notion is false, and the lack of appropriate treatment for this population has resulted in higher HIV rates and an increased spread of the virus.

According to the study, 59% of individuals with intellectual disabilities and HIV are Black, despite Black people constituting only 21% of the population with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The research also disclosed that 71% of individuals with HIV and intellectual disabilities were receiving antiretroviral therapy, aligning with global estimates for the general population. However, only 54% of autistic adults with co-occurring intellectual disabilities and HIV received antiretroviral therapy, falling far below the national target of 95%. This finding reinforces previous research indicating that autistic individuals with intellectual disabilities experience poorer health and social outcomes.

Furthermore, individuals with intellectual disabilities were more likely to receive an HIV diagnosis but less likely to receive antiretroviral therapy if they also had co-occurring serious mental illness or a substance use disorder.

The study’s authors intend to initiate a national conversation to ensure that individuals with intellectual disabilities and other underserved populations receive adequate care concerning HIV testing, treatment, and education. It is crucial to expose and address ableism within our healthcare system to enhance healthcare for all patients.

Tyler G. James added that raising awareness about the issue is essential in advocating for improved healthcare. Individuals with intellectual disabilities should continue to advocate for themselves and their sexual health, knowing that their experiences are seen and that there are advocates standing beside them.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it