Study Finds Significant Care Gaps in Puerto Rico for People Who Inject Drugs

Sep 30, 2023 | News

study led by researchers at the CUNY Institute for Implementation Science in Population Health (CUNY ISPH) at CUNY SPH, including Associate Professor Pedro Mateu-Gelabert, member of PRI’s Racial Equity and Social Determinants of Health team, reveals worrisome barriers to care for people who inject drugs in Puerto Rico.

People who use intravenous drugs in Puerto Rico are disproportionately affected by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is now curable thanks to direct-acting antiviral treatments. However, there is a lack of data on the measures in place in Puerto Rico to ensure people who inject drugs have access to HCV care. Key findings include:

  • The prevalence of HCV RNA among PWID in Puerto Rico is very high (53%).
  • Significant gaps exist along the HCV cascade of care among PWID in Puerto Rico.
  • Barriers included transportation (79%), drug abstinence requirement (75%) and stigma (38%).
  • Significant lack of knowledge exists regarding HCV testing (71%) and treatment sites (79%).

“This is the first study that assesses HCV RNA prevalence among people who inject drugs in Puerto Rico,” says Aponte-Meléndez, one of the authors. “The results show there is a large burden of HCV infections among this population and they in fact constitute the core of the HCV epidemic in the country. Stigma and the lack of access to HCV treatment are major barriers to saving lives and ending the epidemic. The provision of non-stigmatizing and low-threshold services will be crucial for reducing HCV-related mortality and transmission in Puerto Rico. Flexible models of delivering HCV care are needed to increase access to HCV services to people who inject drugs in rural communities.”

Read the full study at Science Direct.