North Carolina To Train Club Goers, Popular College Students To Educate Others on HIV/AIDS
Public health officials in several North Carolina counties by Dec. 1 plan to use an almost $1.4 million CDC grant to train "popular opinion leaders" in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte metropolitan areas to help educate black men who have sex with men and others about HIV/AIDS, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. According to state data, the rate of HIV infection among blacks (64.3 per 100,000) was more than nine times the rate of infection among whites (6.8 per 100,000) in 2002. In addition, the rate of HIV infection among black heterosexual women in the state (43.2 per 100,000) was more than 17 times the rate of infection among white heterosexual women (2.5 per 100,000). State health officials have identified at least seven clubs and bars in the Triangle area that are predominately frequented by black MSM who do not mention their male relationships to their female sex partners, friends or family members. State officials, relying on the advice of bartenders, club owners and school officials, hope to identify and train 15% of the people who frequent such bars and 15% of the "popular" men and women at historically black colleges and universities in the area to be unofficial health educators, according to the News & Observer. Officials plan to offer nonmonetary incentives, such as gift cards or discounted entry to bars, in exchange for participation in a series of HIV education classes.
"People have heard these messages about preventing infection and getting tested from public health workers for 20 years now, but they are still taking chances and engaging in risky behavior," Phyllis Gray, project manager of the minority initiative at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services' HIV/STD Prevention and Care Branch, said, adding, "The hope is that over time, these people will change the atmosphere, the behavior, what's considered the norm when people have sex." John Paul Womble, director of development and public affairs for the Alliance of AIDS Services Carolina, said, "From the public health perspective, this program is brilliant," adding, "This kind of program, where messages are delivered by someone who looks like you, talks like you, walks like you and is dressed like you, can be extremely effective" (Ross, Raleigh News & Observer, 8/10).