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Reducing the impact of HIV/AIDS in Black communities

BERNITA DORCH Special to the AmNews | 1/18/2012, 6:08 p.m.

A vital aspect of Project Eban is its specific Afrocentric design. Applying Kwanzaa principles such as self-determination, cooperation and unity, and using Afrocentric videos, songs and literature effectively engaged the study participants. Additionally, the presence of highly qualified, trained African-American facilitators helped create an atmosphere of trust, lessening the stigma of HIV during the sharing of crucial information among the participants, both paired and individually.

"The unique realities of African-Americans who are at risk for HIV were addressed because Eban is a culturally congruent HIV prevention study," said El-Bassel.

Couple-based approaches provide an opportunity for both partners to improve their HIV knowledge, disclose and identify risks and develop mutual goals and joint responsibility for protecting each other from STIs (sexually transmitted infections). The encouraging results also suggest that successful couples intervention helps protect the wider community from the spread of infection.

An important distinction of this study is that all of the participants knew their HIV status. Therefore, the results cannot be generalized for couples who are unaware of their status-all the more reason individuals and couples should know their HIV status and proactively safeguard their health.

PROMOTING MULTIPLE HEALTH BEHAVIORS

The health promotion aspect of Eban encourages healthy behavior. By recommending a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, self-health exams and avoidance of tobacco and excess alcohol, the study demonstrated how much control African-Americans can assume for better ownership of their health. These protective health-related behaviors have been shown to reduce hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and other ills that are chronic in the Black community.

"Project Eban offers a prevention approach that may help reduce HIV risks as well as morbidity and mortality rates from chronic diseases in African-Americans," said El-Bassel.

"To our knowledge, this is the first trial to evaluate health promotion intervention with African-American serodiscordant couples," said El-Bassel. "The findings underscore the value of an intervention prevention model that targets multiple health behaviors."

El-Bassel, who is also director of the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia, reported the positive results of the intervention study to the CDC and is looking into opportunities to share the findings with community centers and churches.

"In the one-year follow-up period, the proportion of condom-protected sex and the percentage of couples practicing consistent condom use increased, and over 70 percent of the participating couples remained together," she said. "This represents a plus in sexual behavior outcomes, strengthens confidence in intervention efforts and has helped reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS on African-American communities."