Two universities in Texas, both SAMHSA grantees, are working to address the link between substance use and the transmission of HIV with an eye on prevention.
In 2010, the estimated number of new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) was 29,800, a significant 12% increase from the 26,700 new infections among MSM in 2008, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). SAMHSA has a funding stream specifically targeting minority-serving institution partnerships, programs that are working with one or more community-based organizations to provide integrated prevention and treatment programs to reduce substance use and transmission of HIV among young adults ages 18-24. We spoke to two grant awardees focused on African-American and Hispanic youth in Texas.
Huston-Tillotson is a historically black university that serves 900 students, 20% of them Hispanic, in Austin. Dr. Debra Murphy proudly pointed out that it is the oldest college in central Texas, older than the University of Texas. Murphy has worked with community outreach efforts for HIV transmission for sixteen years, and she understands the challenges. “In the black community, the thought is ‘This is a gay white man’s disease.’ Kids come here for college, explore, party a little, and don’t see the risk. This grant is to help us change behavior by increasing knowledge. We want to use outreach strategies to disseminate prevention messages, increase awareness, develop intervention strategies, and increase testing among our students.”
“Our program will use The Promise Model to tell specific stories that will resonate with the target audience,” Murphy continued. “We are looking for community, evidence-based intervention strategies based upon research from the Centers for Disease Control. We’ll start with focus groups to develop environmental policy change strategies, and find stress points that can pose problems. For example, alcohol lowers inhibitions and we will only allow alcohol-free advertising on campus and at school-sponsored events.”
Texas State University
Murphy sees the program disseminating chosen messages through social media, tailored with input from students. Melinda Villagran, Professor of Health Communication for Texas State University in San Marcos, will use a similar approach but faces different challenges. Villagran sees the need to develop communications that target Latinos much more effectively than current materials. “We need a culturally competent program with strategic messages created for this audience. The previous stuff was simply translated into Spanish without regard to the specific cultural need of Hispanics. Telling people what they do is bad doesn’t work. We need to ask them how to best reach them with healthy messages, what we can say to create a better environment.”
Villagran understands the need to go through family decision makers. “Young Hispanics are affected by their parents more than other groups. The risk of HIV infection for Latinos is primarily tied to substance abuse. They release pressure through drinking and using drugs. But when we discuss HIV we need to consider what information they are getting from their families. The challenge is that it is not respectful to ask family decision makers direct questions about this. There isn’t enough information about HIV, and much of the information they do have is inaccurate.”
But Villagran is up to the challenge. “We will create a cohesive campus and community approach, combine all our efforts so there are no barriers, no overlaps, and no gaps.” HIV/AIDS is a community issue that must be tackled by everyone in the community.
This article was originally published to highlight the theme of Minority Behavioral Health Issues.
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