As a student who is majoring in Sociocultural Anthropology, I can attest that I have read many ethnographic studies and sat through numerous lectures that support the argument that human cooperation fuels productivity and community development. When people work together to establish a community, a majority of the time positive outcomes are achieved and goals are met.
We see more and more developing communities out there to promote positive behavior change in efforts to increase HIV prevention. Can it work and is it working? Let’s take a look.
“It takes a village…” is a long old saying that you probably hear from your grandparents and parents today. And yes, although it may be cliché to say, it is totally true! Community-based organizations (CBOs) are in place for peoples to come together to achieve a common goal. Let’s take a look at the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC). NMAC is one of the largest non-profit HIV/AIDS advocacy groups that is dedicated towards helping minority groups gain access to HIV treatment and prevent HIV to those who are uninfected by increasing access to testing. Let’s look at one of their programs in particular: The Youth Initiative to End HIV/AIDS in America Scholars Program. This program hosts about 30 youth scholars per year to attend the U.S. States Conference on AIDS to increase their personal awareness about the pandemic and learn how to combat the pandemic in their own community with tools learned at the conference. At the end of the conference, the scholars are expected to report back to NMAC every several weeks about their progress to help “End HIV/AIDS in America.” This program is near and dear to my heart, as for I was selected as a 2013 Youth Scholar. I am in constant contact with my fellow scholars as for we brainstorm new ideas and share networking opportunities to get involved with community-based organizations to ultimately help end the pandemic. NMAC has created a community for us, which gives us the opportunities, and networks needed to create positive behavior change and increase HIV prevention.
Left to Right: Victor Yang and myself at the U.S. Conference on AIDS in New Orleans, LA, September 2013
Our lab has conducted a study, called the Harnessing Online Peer Education (HOPE) study, in Peru last year to increase HIV prevention. What is significant about the study is our creation of “peer leaders.” These peer leaders were used to educate on HIV prevention and mentor the participants—who were also African American and/or Latino MSM. Peer leaders had experience with community and social media outreach. Peer leaders were trained on discussion and role playing exercises to integrate basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS, awareness of sociocultural HIV/AIDS issues in the age of technology, and communication methods for effective, interactive social media-based HIV prevention.
But mind you, there was no established social hierarchy. That’s why we had the same population, just different responsibilities of each subpopulation (participants and peer leaders). In this way, we created a community for MSM to promote healthy sexual behaviors amongst one another.
On the flip side, when we think of a community, is there always a positive connotation linked to it? Not necessarily. For example, what if a young fresh-out-the-closet young gay man from the Midwest (where the homosexual community isn’t the most prevalent) came to an urban center (L.A., New York, Atlanta, etc.) and joined the community of young gay men there. We need to realize that the gay community in big urban centers has a high prevalence rate of substance abuse and HIV. So in this case, would him joining the community be a positive thing? No. He would be very likely to try to fit in with the community and therefore be exposed to these negative behaviors. How can we create more positive communities for the LGBTQ population?
What are your thoughts on community building and HIV prevention? What does your CBO do to build communities? Let us know by tweeting us @DigitalHBX or sending us a Facebook message at www.facebook.com/digiitalhbx
Derek Hernandez is an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, with a major in Sociocultural Anthropology. He is a Research Assistant at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine where he studies the behavioral aspects of HIV-positive men and researches new implementations of HIV prophylaxis via social media. Derek is passionate about the dynamics of LGBTQ Healthcare and ensuring accessibility and retention of care for patients, especially HIV/AIDS patients. He is notably proud for holding two Student Intern positions at UCLA Health System and currently at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center where he works alongside physicians and nurses to ensure patient safety and adherence to quality measures. Derek plans to ultimately earn his Doctorate in Nursing Practice Degree and purse a career an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.