The University of Miami has come up with a plan to help homeless people with HIV keep up with their HIV medication.
program called IDEA Exchange will provide medication lockers to the
homeless – secure places for them to store their medication. The
medication can be picked up from a locker at Miami converted shipping
container office or have their social worker give them several days’
worth of the drugs. For the homeless, holding onto smaller amounts of
the drug is easier to protect.
Naida, 33, a homeless woman living under a highway overpass in Miami
with other homeless persons, said keeping track of her HIV medication
is tedious. She said the biggest worry all homeless people have is
people stealing their stuff. Nadia was diagnosed with the virus after
she contracted it after sharing needles to inject drugs.
to a 2017 National Institute of Health study and the U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, homeless people often carry their
belongings with them. This includes their drugs, which are typically
stolen or lost while they roam the streets.
with the new Miami initiative, the prescriptions, which are paid for
through Medicaid or a federal drug assistance program for low-income
individuals, can be safely stored when needed.
of Miami Dr. Hansel Tookes began the program in 2018 after the surge
in the city’s homeless with HIV, with a number of them unable to
remember where their possessions were. With these medication
lockers, they’re less likely to lose their medications, and medical
professionals can take the opportunity to address the problem.
Ekowo is a social worker leading the outreach team, and she said the
goal is to stop the spread of HIV. If the people who have it can
suppress it, it means they’re less likely to spread the disease to
to the program, there is a 100 percent viral suppression rate among
the 13 participants, which is an incredible feat considering the
state has the highest new HIV diagnosis rate in the U.S. – based on
information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There are roughly 28,000 people with HIV in the Miami-Dade County
area, with 58 percent of them being virally-suppressed.
worthwhile benefit to the program? Ekowo said people with very little
self-confidence or familial support can build their self-reliance
skills while also taking care of their health.
Ferraro said the IDEA exchange is vital to recovery, calling the
staff angels. The 52-year-old is no longer sleeping on the streets
but still uses the medication locker. It wasn’t that long ago that
the former heroin user was sleeping behind Taco Bell where the staff
would give him his medication.
who had little contact with family members during this time, said
even though he was still getting high, the staff made sure that he
was getting his medications. By sticking by him, he finally relented
into a rehabilitation program, and today, he’s got permanent
said thanks to the program and its support, she has more pride in
herself and is taking her medication. She went 10 years without the
drugs. Naida gets her drugs and other supplies thanks to Ekowo and
Chevel Collington, her partner. Both social workers help Naida
remember important appointments she has and provide her with
According to Naida, the program gives her some sense of responsibility.