Friday, June 27, 2008

National HIV Testing Day

Today, Friday, June 27th, is National HIV Testing Day. Many of us, I would guess, have become somewhat desensitized to these types of events. We are inundated by days or weeks or months dedicated to various causes. It would be easy to ignore National HIV Testing Day or view it as just another event on an already overcrowded calendar.

But I encourage all of you to pay attention to this special day. Why? Because HIV/AIDS is preventable. It is only preventable, though, if all of us know our HIV status. Today, the CDC estimates that roughly a quarter million people in the US are HIV+ and do not know it. We need to decrease this number. If we are going to beat HIV/AIDS, it’s important that people know their status.

Where can you get tested? If you don’t know of a local testing site, simply go to Type in your zip code, and you will be provided with a list of nearby sites. Or, you can find a test site by texting your zip code.

Know your HIV status? Text: Your Zip Code to KnowIT or 566948 to find HIV test centers near you

If you have never been tested, or if you haven’t been tested in a while, get tested today. It’s the only way we can end this pandemic.

Until next time, I’m Dave Wessner.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Kwame Dawes reports on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica

In a recent installment of The AIDS Pandemic, Tamar Odle described the stigmatization of homosexuals and people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. As she reported, the discrimination against homosexuals stems from deep-rooted cultural beliefs and values. And this discrimination against homosexuals has increased the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS in this country.

Recently, Kwame Dawes, a poet and professor at the University of South Carolina, reported in The Washington Post on the current state of people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. With funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, the Jamaican government has been able to supply free or low-cost antiretroviral drugs to many Jamaicans living with HIV/AIDS. But public perception of HIV/AIDS remains a problem. And because of this public perception, adequate treatment remains an issue.

A young HIV+ Jamaican woman, Annesha Taylor, became the face of successful treatment. The government used her story in various ad campaigns to show people that it now was possible to live with HIV. But according to Dr. Dawes, when she became pregnant, “her role as the campaign’s public ambassador was over.” The story is poignant and telling. Despite our scientific understanding of the virus and the growing number of antiretroviral drugs at our disposal, stigma, misunderstanding, distrust, and fear remain the biggest obstacles to preventing new infections and treating those already infected.

I encourage you to read Dr. Dawes’ piece.

I also encourage you to read and listen to his moving poetry on HIV/AIDS in Jamaica at

His trips to Jamaica have been supported in part by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Until next time, I’m Dave Wessner.

Friday, June 13, 2008

HIV/AIDS Outreach in African American Communities using Barbershops and Hair Salons

Historically, barbershops and hair salons have served as hubs in the African American community where people go to discuss issues in the community, politics, family, and life issues. Within these establishments there is a sense of community, and it provides opportunities for African Americans to develop ideas and form a sense of identity. African Americans usually build relationships with their stylists where they are comfortable enough to gossip and share personal information. As a result, HIV/AIDS Outreach Programs have begun to use barbershops and hair salons to get through to the African American community. Such unconventional outreach locations are effective in providing prevention efforts that is culturally relevant, non-intrusive, and accommodating for sharing information and learning.

Barbershops are significant in facilitating important discussions and community within the African American population. One great example of this was in the 2002 Motion Picture, “Barbershop”, in which conversation and discussion by African American customers and employees within the shop was the basis of the film. The prominence of conversation/ discussion within barbershops was also highlighted in the book, “Barbershops, Bibles, and BET”, written by Victoria Harris-Lacewell. Lacewell states that, “They talked about White power structures, the relationship of African Americans to the state and to capitalism... critiqued black leaders, discussed political power in the black church, argued about reparations and cheered on African American Olympic athletes.”

Specifically, the purpose of Outreach programs through barbershops and hair salons is to target high risk groups like drug, alcohol users, homosexuals, heterosexuals, and men who have sex with men, to inform them about HIV/AIDS prevention. Some of the professionals that work towards these efforts include: public health experts, behavioral scientists, business owners, hairstylists and barbers. Some of the programs targeted towards HIV/AIDS prevention outreach are: The Down Low Barbershop Project and the Barber and Beautician STD/HIV Peer Education Program with Project StraighTalk. There are several other Outreach programs that use barbershops and hair salons as channels of outreach around the country in states like New York, Nevada, North Carolina, and Vermont.

The Down Low Barbershop Project is located in Seattle and Washington, DC is funded by the Center for Disease Control. The purpose of this project is to train barbers and stylists in Black communities to provide black men with HIV education, condoms, and referrals for free HIV counseling and testing. It is estimated that more than 1,000 people have participated in this program thus far. The Barber & Beautician STD/HIV Peer Education Program with Project StraighTalk began in 1989 with a poll that asked African American barbers and beauticians “what their clients talked about?” The results of the poll showed that 80% of the clients talked about sexual issues which urged Project Straightalk to begin their first training of stylist in HIV Outreach in 1990.

The training of barbers and beauticians in STD/HIV Peer Education is very critical to the success of these Outreach programs. It is important that the stylists are adequately equipped with facts, advice, and resources that are correct and beneficial to their clients. The training for these programs consists of: an overview of program, discussion of their role as educators, teaching of peer education skills and STD/HIV facts, a demonstration of correct prevention method use, instruction on providing client referrals, and role plays. At the end of training, the stylists are given a certificate, resources such as pamphlets and posters, and an “Ask Me About AIDS” Button.

The U.S. is not the only country that has decided to use barbershops and hair salons to target the black community. Similar efforts are taking place in Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Canada, to name a few. In Canada, the peer led health promotion initiative called, Operation Hairspray, has begun. The goal of this program is to provide HIV/AIDS outreach for African American and Caribbean hairdressers and clients.

There are several implications related to the success, future, and long-term effect of Barbershop and Hair Salon HIV/AIDS Outreach Programs in the African American Community. These programs are culturally relevant to the African American community and provide outreach in non-intrusive informal setting. Likewise, they are specifically tailored to incorporate social norms and values; this is beneficial to targeted outreach for any group. Some critics argue that quality, content, and intensity varies in different outreach programs, as a result there efficiency is unclear. However, all of these programs provide much needed education, testing information, awareness, and support for African Americans which are all beneficial. Although the long-term effectiveness of these HIV/AIDS outreach programs is not apparent, the initiative that these programs have taken is positive and can ultimately help the African American community and aid in decreasing the number of HIV/AIDS cases.

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