UVA Medical Center: Access to COVID-19 treatment trials lacks in rural areas

UVA Medical Center (FILE)
UVA Medical Center (FILE)
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 9:16 AM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The University of Virginia Medical Center published a study that suggests that three quarters of rural Americans live more than an hour from the nearest site that tests new treatments for COVID-19. Minority groups are underrepresented, too.

Rural areas of Virginia mirrored these results.

“There has been chronic under representation of minority groups in clinical trials for therapies for COVID-19,” Dr. Elizabeth Rogawski McQuade said.

UVA researchers examined COVID-19 trials across the U.S. throughout the first eight months of the pandemic. They found these trials were concentrated around major cities.

“Especially in the Appalachian region, rural Appalachia, the drive times were significantly longer than, for example, in Northern, eastern Virginia. So, you know in general, the drive times as you might expect track with urban centers where there are a well-resourced research medical centers that are able to do these studies,” McQuade said.

Drive times averaged about an hour for around 31% of the U.S. population.

“It’s not new that, you know, rural areas having poor access to care. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has really highlighted the importance of research trials in providing access to therapy,” McQuade said.

The Virginia Department of Health is working to bring resources to rural areas of Virginia.

“One of the things that the Blue Ridge Health District is really working on to help get testing to people living in rural areas is offering weekly testing,” BRHD COVID-19 Testing and Logistics Coordinator Sabrina Torgesen said.

Testing helps contain the spread of the virus.

“Even if those might not be well attended every single week, we are continuing to be in those locations weekly to offer that to people living in everywhere in the health district,” Torgesen said.

The Blue Ridge Health District has also partnered with UVA to provide a limited number of at-home tests to families who may not be able to make the weekly in-person tests.

“The schools are able to give those to people that they might see would otherwise be unable to be tested, and therefore go back to school after an exposure,” Torgesen said. “There is a limited supply, and so that’s why we’re still going to each of the local health departments.”

More information on the BRHD testing schedule can be found here.

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