January 15, 2016 – An interdisciplinary study published today in JMIR Public Health and Surveillance outlines how the D.C., Maryland and Virginia health departments, Georgetown and George Washington universities developed a novel privacy-enhanced data-sharing technology to improve HIV surveillance data across the region.
Using this innovative approach, the three health departments were able to confirm that more than 21,000 people living with HIV appeared in the Enhanced HIV/AIDS Reporting System (eHARS) databases of at least two jurisdictions in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area between 1981 and 2015.
Indicating such movement for HIV care across borders in the region is important because people might be deemed to be out of such care when they are in fact receiving medical attention in another jurisdiction.
“We’re trying to figure out the overall puzzle that is HIV in this region, and because we have to consider multiple jurisdictional borders, we can’t solve this with just one university, one discipline or one health department,” says Joanne Michelle Ocampo, the article’s first author, who works for the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research. “This has been an interdisciplinary and community-wide project from the start.”
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease funded the pilot project, through the D.C. Women’s Interagency HIV Study, for which Dr. Mary Young of Georgetown University Medical Center serves as principal investigator.
Timely, Accurate, Complete
The 18 authors of the study include experts in the fields of computational science, computer engineering, anthropology, epidemiology, clinical medicine, infectious disease, and public health.
“Right now the goal of HIV treatment is to reduce the viral load of individual people to below detectable level,” says Jeff Collmann, a Georgetown research professor and one of the study’s 18 authors. “Some people get diagnosed, go to their doctor, get virally suppressed within a year and stay that way for the rest of their lives. But two-thirds of the people don’t.”
Methods that simultaneously facilitate enhanced personal privacy and provide timely, accurate and complete ways of conducting HIV surveillance could help improve the health of individuals through more targeted public health action, Collmann says.
The official launch of the project took place in January 2013 at a Georgetown University-sponsored conference on sharing infectious disease data that attracted about 50 representatives from the three health departments, the two universities, the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This project marks a true collaboration in which the university used its technical knowledge to make a difference to the way the community works in an area of great social concern,” Collmann notes.