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HIV infection rates are climbing again after decades of decline, particularly in minority communities. The Montrose Center in Houston and Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF) in Tucson have innovative programs to reach audiences with healthy HIV prevention messages.
New Media, Same Stigma

Jaymie Mielke, Education Program Coordinator at The Montrose Center in Houston, discussed the organization’s new initiative to use social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Vine and YouTube to get HIV prevention messages out to targeted audiences: “People are just burned out on this issue. We want to use these new media opportunities to reach our targets with a real health-focused message: ‘Take care of yourself. Get to the doctor and get an HIV test.’” HIV rates, after decades of steady decline, are heading upwards among minority populations. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
  • African American males have 7.8 times the AIDS rate as white men.
  • African American women have 20 times the HIV rate as white women.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native women have almost three times the AIDS rate as non-Hispanic white women.
  • Hispanic females have four times the AIDS rate as non-Hispanic white women.
“We want to get shares, get people to pass it along. We use attractive spokesmodels; people who use social media a lot and who know how to use it to the best advantage. We also will use chat rooms -- but it is important in chat rooms to get an adequate message across, not be too boring and lead people to shut down,” said Mielke. “And we know that everything we do must be engineered for the mobile market -- African Americans use the Internet through their cell phones, for the most part.” For example, any website landing page linked to social media must be programmed as a “responsive page,” one that can be read by a variety of cell phones and tablets.

Initially, the project will focus on gay men’s health. “We want people to share their actual stories, particularly on Facebook,” explained Mielke. “From there, we want to get in touch with those who respond with a share, comment, or a like and get in a dialogue. Can a doctor talk to them? Can we talk about anal sex and oral sex? Do you want to get an anal Pap smear? Are you in a monogamous relationship, or is it open? Or is it ‘unilaterally monogamous?’”

“It is a challenge to reach the very high-risk population, but it is also a big opportunity to make a difference in infection rates in our community,” Jaime Mielke stated. One organization that has a track record of reaching this audience with HIV prevention messages, and having a blast doing it, is the Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation (SAAF, pronounced “safe”), with their 11th Annual Moda Provocateur fashion extravaganza on March 2, 2014.

Monique Vallery shared all of the fabulous details: “It has really become a big event here in Tucson. We give five or six salons eight minutes to present their skills and expertise, which they do with voice-over and dance, then we go to the fashion portion. The University of Arizona has donated time from graduate film and television students, which gives us a chance to put together video segments from the fashion and salon participants that tell the story of living with HIV, one or two minutes for their personal stories, and how SAAF has made a difference in their lives. Other participants who aren’t positive discuss their safer habits and preventive behavior they learned through SAAF.” These segments run throughout the program, giving attendees many opportunities to have fun and receive valuable information.

Over 3,000 hours of volunteer time go into running this yearly event, with over 950 people participating and $65,000 to $70,000 in donations made to support programming at SAAF. Vallery continued, “It is really so much fun. It is two hours long; everybody takes it seriously without taking themselves too seriously, if you know what I mean. People see the lights and the fashions, have a few drinks, start sharing their stories. It really works.”

CDC 2012. Summary Health Statistics for U.S. Adults: 2011. Table 41.

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