Guidelines for drug therapy in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) disease are based primarily on the stage of the disease. To determine whether sociodemographic characteristics of patients influence drug therapy in practice, we analyzed the use of antiretroviral therapy and prophylactic therapy for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) in an urban population infected with HIV. All patients presenting for the first time to our HIV clinic from March 1990 through December 1992 were enrolled. Data on sociodemographic and clinical variables and on drug use were collected at the time of presentation and after six months. We asked whether patients with CD4+ cell counts of 500 or less per cubic millimeter were receiving antiretroviral therapy at the time of presentation, and whether patients with CD4+ cell counts of 200 or less per cubic millimeter were receiving PCP prophylaxis. Among the 838 patients enrolled, 656 (79 percent) were blacks, 167 (20 percent) were non-Hispanic whites, and 15 (2 percent) were Asian or Hispanic or were not racially classified. There were no racial differences in the stage of HIV disease at the time of presentation. However, there were racial disparities in the receipt of antiretroviral therapy: 63 percent of eligible whites but only 48 percent of eligible blacks received such therapy (P = 0.003). PCP prophylaxis was received by 82 percent of eligible whites but only 58 percent of eligible blacks (P<0.001). There were no significant differences in the receipt of drug therapy with respect to age, sex, mode of HIV transmission, type of insurance, income, education, or place of residence. In a logistic-regression analysis, race was the feature most strongly associated with the receipt of drug therapy. When blacks were compared with whites, the adjusted relative odds were 0.59 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.38 to 0.93) for the receipt of an antiretroviral agent and 0.27 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.13 to 0.56) for the receipt of PCP prophylaxis. Among patients infected with HIV, blacks were significantly less likely than whites to have received antiretroviral therapy or PCP prophylaxis when they were first referred to an HIV clinic. This disparity suggests a need for culturally specific interventions to ensure uniform access to care, including drug therapy, and uniform standards of care.
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