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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Drexel Study of Racial Disparities in HIV Risk in Gay Communities Highlights Need to Improve Surveillance Data

On the surface, data indicate that gay Black men are 4.5 times more likely to have HIV, while gay White men are 16 times more likely than heterosexual men of their same race.

But work by Drexel University researchers showed that those numbers are not an accurate representation of HIV risk. In fact, the disparity between gay black and white men was actually demonstrated to be smaller, with a key factor being underlying differences in how risk is assessed.

Work by a team of researchers from the Dornsife School of Public Health showed that there is a reduction in the disparity of HIV risk between white and black men who have sex with men once potentially stigmatizing behaviors that are generally underreported or mismeasured in surveys, such as sharing needles or having anal sex with another man, were accounted for. Factoring all of that in helped Dr. Neal D. Goldstein, a research assistant professor at Drexel, and colleagues to more accurately ascertain the baseline levels of risk for each group.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to drill down to data that can reveal the real drivers of disparities in HIV risk so that more successful approaches can be taken to combat the spread of the disease.

“We call for improved data,” Dr. Goldstein said. “HIV prevention and treatment programs rely upon surveillance data. If the data are flawed, the statistics that health departments use may misdirect important funding.”

Drs. Goldstein and Dornsife SPH collaborators Dr. Seth L. Welles, professor in epidemiology and biostatistics, and Dr. Igor Burstyn, associate professor in both Environmental and Occupational Health and Epidemiology and Biostatistics, published the results of their study, “Bayesian approaches to racial disparities in HIV risk estimation among men who have sex with men,” in Epidemiology.

Drexel press release: