Background: Health departments often have little knowledge of HIV testing and linkage activities outside of those they directly fund. Many health departments also have limited access to outside academic expertise.
Methods: We conducted a survey of health organizations in the Houston/Harris County region to determine the number of HIV tests completed in 2011, activities that organizations conducted to promote linkage to care for persons newly diagnosed with HIV, and barriers to linkage to care. We also convened a Scientific Advisory Council to advise the local health department on HIV prevention activities.
Results: In 2012, 55 of 84 organizations (65.5%) completed the survey and 43 of those 55 organizations reported conducting HIV testing, so were included in this analysis. Organizations reported conducting 210,565 HIV tests in 2011 and 50.9% under health department contract. The median number of tests per organization was 1045 (interquartile ratio: 159-3520). More than 90% of the organizations used active linkage to care methods, but only 46.5% had written linkage to care protocols. Barriers to linkage to care most often reported were client refusal followed by staff capacity and funding limitations. The Scientific Advisory Council provided valuable informal expertise to the local health department.
Conclusions: Half of the HIV testing in the Houston/Harris County region is conducted without local health department funding, and half the organizations conducting HIV testing have linkage to care protocols. The findings of the study and Scientific Advisory Council advice have helped the health department with policy, procedures, evaluation tools, and technical assistance offerings.