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UTEP Professor receives grant to aid individuals with HIV

Connor Martinez
Professor Julia Lechuga P.h.D., received a $3 million grant from the National Institute of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse to work with Programa Compañeros to implement interventions for those living with HIV.

UTEP Associate Professor Julia Lechuga Ph.D., received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and National Institute on Drug Abuse, and will work alongside Programa Compañeros to help implement interventions for people living with HIV and those that inject drugs, UTEP communication newsletter said.  

Programa Compañeros is a non-governmental program in Ciudad Juárez that participates in research and responds to the population most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS and injection drug addiction. 

Lechuga wants the program to focus and conduct interventions designed for latinx to push them to get treatment.  

“Interventions have shown success in achieving shorter-term viral suppression outcomes among people who inject drugs, but we propose to identify the intervention components that derive the greatest benefits and impact on viral suppression with the goal to promote long-term viral suppression,” Lechuga said.  

The study will be conducted on the U.S. Mexico border, and interventions will take in a real-world setting and with real world constraints to create the greatest possibility of scalability, Lechuga said.  

The four intervention studies taking place over the next five years include patient navigators to help participants obtain HIV treatment services, provide psychological therapy to treat depression, improve access to methadone treatment, and offer educational sessions and skills for medication adherence, UTEP communications newsletter said. 

“We wanted to see which of the four types of interventions would be most impactful in getting people who are living with HIV to be virally suppressed for at least a year,” Lechuga said. 

Around 384 participants will be enrolled in a clinical trial so researchers can understand which behavioral intervention component will help the individuals the most to take their medications and achieve viral suppression, Lechuga said.  

“This area where we live in is very underserved compared to other borders,” Lechuga said.  

Lechuga said a greater proportion of individuals living along the border live below the poverty line, don’t have health insurance and have limited health care providers.  

According to the CDC, in 2019, Hispanic/Latino people made up 29% (10,494) of the 36,801 new HIV diagnoses in the US and dependent areas. 

Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men accounted for most new diagnoses in 2019, with 85% of cases being male to male contact, CDC HIV report said. 

For every 100 Hispanic/Latino people with HIV, 84 of them knew of their status, CDC HIV report said.  

Executive Director of Programa Compañeros, Maria Elena Ramos said that the new project would allow the organization to implement new interventions to assist individuals who inject drugs and those living with HIV adhere to medication by providing new public health strategies such as psychological therapies, UTEP Communications newsletter said.  

Ramos said to UC, “We will also learn about other tools to detect and treat the most prevalent mental health conditions such as depression in the population that we serve,” UTEP Communications newsletter said.   

Lechuga says her team applied the principles of harm reduction to the study.  

The philosophy of harm reduction acknowledges that human beings are imperfect. When it comes to health, there is no need to seek perfection, it matters when the individual tries their best, Lechuga said.  

“Change begins with that, with acknowledging that you’re trying,” Lechuga said.  

Julia Lucero is a contributor and may be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributors
Julia Lucero
Julia Lucero is a senior majoring in Multimedia Journalism. She is a contributor with The Prospector, member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, and writer for Borderzine. She has experience editing/producing audio and visual projects.
Connor Martinez
Connor Martinez is a photographer for The Prospector. He is freshman majoring with the UT Austin Coordinated Admissions Program, planning to transfer to UT Austin to study East language and linguistics. With a passion for photography, he became part of the yearbook staff in high school and learned journalism techniques to improve his work on the field.
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UTEP Professor receives grant to aid individuals with HIV