Miami AIDS Counselors Use ‘Cyber Outreach’ to Alert, Counsel Internet Chat Room Users
Miami-area AIDS activists are going online as "chat-room counselors" to alert "those most at risk of HIV infection" about increasing rates of HIV, hepatitis and syphilis in the region, the AP/Tallahassee Democrat reports. By providing anonymity, the Internet allows counselors to answer questions about the diseases that "many would feel uncomfortable asking in person or on the phone." Counselors across the country who use chat rooms to spread the public health message say the approach is successful. Marc Cohen, president of the Miami-based United Foundation for AIDS, said of the online counseling sessions, "We are not the sex police. It is an awareness campaign to embrace and heal the community. It's cyber outreach." Cohen, who began the online campaign in June, typically spends more than 25 hours per week logging in to chat rooms during "peak" night hours. He said that the number of people who have asked him for HIV tests has grown from "a handful to a dozen or more" each night. He added, "So much that went on in bathhouses and public parks now takes place in chat rooms, where people meet to engage in unsafe sex from the comfort of their living room." By entering such high-traffic online sites, there is the potential for "tremendous dialogue" about AIDS, he said (Diaz, AP/Tallahassee Democrat, 10/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.