Three years ago, amid an alarming spike in HIV infections, Boston’s largest homeless service provider took what it called a “simple yet radical” approach to combating the virus’s spread among an especially vulnerable population of homeless drug users.
Nurses with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program fanned out on city streets and began handing out antiretroviral pills to people whom the nonprofit knew were infected with the disease and were struggling with substance use. Those unsure of whether they had HIV were tested for the virus outside — on street corners, park benches, and tent encampments — without ever needing to schedule a doctor’s appointment or set foot in a clinic.
The results were immediate and startling, according to findings released by the group on Friday. By bringing life-saving treatment directly to the streets, clinicians at the nonprofit fully suppressed the virus among dozens of homeless patients it serves. The number of new infections also plunged, as people receiving the street-level treatment became less infectious and curbed dangerous practices like needle-sharing.
“It blew me away,” Dr. Jennifer Brody, director of HIV Services at the nonprofit, said of the results. “It really speaks to the benefits of a low-barrier approach to providing medications and treatment outside the walls of a clinic in parallel with harm reduction.”