MAO announces launch of new CARE (Creating Access, Retention, & Engagement) Program

Published: October 3, 2019

Expanding Scope & Response for Women Living with HIV in South Alabama

Medical Advocacy and Outreach Announces Five-Year Program to Reduce Disparities in HIV Care for South Alabama Residents

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA, Sept. 25, 2019 — Medical Advocacy and Outreach (MAO) announced today that it is one of three program grantees supported through HIV Care Connect, a $7 million, five-year initiative established by the Merck Foundation to help reduce disparities in access to care and improve health outcomes for persons with HIV living in vulnerable and underserved Southeastern U.S. communities.

            In the 28 South Alabama Counties currently served by MAO, women account for 34% of people living with HIV (PLWH) in comparison to 27.7% statewide and 25% nationally. Whereas studies have revealed a decline in diagnosis in women nationally, the percentages have remained consistent in MAO’s service area. Certain populations, including women, face additional barriers to accessing high-quality HIV care, resulting in substantial disparities that persist throughout the HIV care continuum.

            Reducing disparities in access to HIV care and treatment requires multilevel strategies to improve linkage to and long-term engagement in HIV care. It also requires collaboration among local health organizations and community-based support agencies to address barriers to care associated with social determinants of health, which include economic stability, neighborhood and physical environment, education, stigma, social context and trust in health care system.

“People living with HIV in the Deep South face many barriers, especially women. High poverty rates, extremely limited public transportation, lack of accessible healthcare providers of any kind, stigma fostered by cultural and religious beliefs, mental health and substance use, intimate partner violence, and lack of HIV-related services contribute to low linkage and retention rates for women living with HIV. They are less likely to receive care within 90 days of diagnosis as compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, much of the current research on HIV focuses on men, even though women account for 25% of people living with HIV in the US and 34% of those in our 28 county service area. Of particular note, these women of the Deep South have little to no network of support. Many women have been marginalized by the system, family, and intimate partners, leaving them isolated and hesitant to seek treatment. As building trust among this group is paramount in linking and retaining them in care, our program aims to establish and foster improved relationships between women living with HIV and their HIV care providers.”

Jamil Dawson, Director of Support Services, Medical Advocacy & Outreach (MAO)
MAO’s new Care Program Model

The CARE Program is an expansion of an existing program, the H.O.P.E. Program (Health, Outreach, Prevention, Empowerment), the name of MAO’s Division of Maternal and Infant Services.

“We need to accelerate solutions that address the growing disparities in patients’ access to HIV care and health outcomes, and focus on communities that are most affected. Through HIV Care Connect, we are pleased to partner with Medical Advocacy and Outreach and help catalyze collaboration among organizations across the southeastern United States and improve care coordination among people most affected by HIV.”

Dr. Julie Louise Gerberding, Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer, Merck

MAO’s multi-level intervention program, CARE (Creating Access, Retention, and Engagement), addresses barriers to care for MAO’s unusually high percentage of women living with HIV. CARE addresses many social and structural issues that affect linkage to and retention in care. Through a series of targeted and evidence-based interventions, we specifically address housing and food insecurity, transportation, lack of social support, stigma, behavioral health issues, and intimate partner violence. Because these barriers are exacerbated by the lack of education and employment opportunities that exist in the rural counties that MAO serves, these barriers are also addressed. Among its goals, CARE is committed to increasing linkage to HIV care within 30 days of diagnosis, particularly for pregnant/postpartum women, and increasing HIV appointment adherence. MAO’s success is evident in its current efforts to serve this target segment. CARE is an expansion of an already existing program, the H.O.P.E Program (Health, Outreach, Prevention, Empowerment), the name of our Maternal and Infant Services. Data from this program has shown that prior to the implementation of the H.O.P.E Program, appointment adherence for pregnant and postpartum women living with HIV was 45%. Within six months of targeted interventions, adherence for this same cohort of women rose to 81%.

Medical Advocacy and Outreach (MAO) (Montgomery, AL) joins selected organizations in communities across the Southeast as program grantees of HIV Care Connect. The other two program grantees are: Care Resource (Miami, FL) and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (Jackson, MS)

The University of Alabama at Birmingham will serve as the National Program Office for HIV Care Connect. In this capacity, it will support the program efforts of the grantee organizations and provide leadership in building a public-private partnership to reduce disparities in HIV care.

More information will be provided here as the CARE Program unfolds. You can also learn more about the project visions for each HIV Care Connect – South partner by visiting

About Medical Advocacy and Outreach

As a not-for-profit organization, Medical Advocacy and Outreach (MAO) is dedicated to providing culturally competent, specialized medical and behavioral care, social and support services, and wellness education. Since 1987 MAO has offered an evolving menu of services for individuals affected by potentially life-threatening illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C. Services to address STIs continue to expand and PrEP is also available to help those not infected with HIV stay that way. Today, MAO responds to the needs of more than 2,000 spanning 28 South Alabama counties, and impacts an additional 4,500 annually through risk reduction education initiatives and free testing. For more information, visit


About the Merck Foundation

The Merck Foundation is a U.S.-based, private charitable foundation. Established in 1957 by Merck, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, the Foundation is funded entirely by the company and is Merck’s chief source of funding support to qualified non-profit charitable organizations. Since its inception, the Merck Foundation has contributed more than $921 million to support important initiatives that address societal needs and are consistent with Merck’s overall mission of inventing for life by bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. For more information, visit


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