Using Social Networks Effective Strategy To Reach Populations at Risk of HIV/AIDS, Study Finds
Using HIV-positive people's social network is "an efficient, high-yield" method of contacting their partners who are at high-risk for the virus and providing them with testing and other HIV-related services, CDC researchers said in a recently published study, Reuters Health reports.
For the study, which appears online in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers led by Lisa Kimbrough documented the results of a social networks project that took place between October 2003 and December 2005. For the project, nine community-based organizations in seven cities signed up 422 recruiters. The initial recruiters were HIV-positive, and later recruiters could be HIV-negative but at a high-risk for HIV. The most commonly self-reported behavioral risk factor was having had high-risk heterosexual sex at 46%. The average age of the recruiters was 41.7, and 60% were HIV-positive. Sixty-three percent were men, and 61% were black.
Recruiters referred peers, known as network associates, into the study. On average, the number of network associates referred and tested per recruiter was 7.4. The report found that of the 3,172 network associates referred, 177, or 5.6%, tested HIV-positive and two-thirds were connected to HIV care and services. According to the study, the HIV prevalence among those tested as a result of the project was about five times greater than the prevalence found in other CDC-funded counseling, testing and referral projects.
The researchers said that this was a "significant public health achievement, because persons who learn that they are HIV-positive tend to reduce their high-risk behaviors to avoid infecting others and have the opportunity to access medical care and other services to improve their personal health." They added that the social networking strategy was more effective and a better use of staff time at contacting undiagnosed HIV-positive people, compared with the common approach of partner counseling and referral services (Reuters Health, 4/29).
An abstract of the study is available online.