HIV/AIDS Risk Reduction Strategies: How to Get Involved

HIV + AIDS RibbonsThe following Q&A is for the UCLA Social Network Health Study.

What percentage of the U.S. population has HIV or AIDS? How is this part of the population currently tracked?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV in the United States and almost 1 in 8 people are unaware of their infection. Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men are at the highest risk; by race, blacks/African-Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV.

At the end of 2010, 45% of the estimated 33,015 new AIDS diagnoses were in the South, followed by the Northeast (24%), the West (19%), and the Midwest (13%). An estimated 13,712 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2012, and approximately 658,507 people in the United States with an AIDS diagnosis have died overall.

CDC’s National HIV Surveillance System is the primary source for monitoring HIV trends in the United States.

What is an HIV risk reduction program? Can you provide some examples?

HIV risk reduction programs exist to address and reduce risk factors associated with HIV for individuals through counseling, education, and promotional activities. Such comprehensive programs exist to help people make healthy decisions, such as negotiating condom use or discussing HIV status. For example, the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles developed a risk reduction program in response to growing concern about HIV infection among adolescents and young adults. Components of this program include prevention services for at-risk youth, as well as clinical research and capacity-building assistance for providers

What are the most common misconceptions about HIV/AIDS?

Unfortunately, I come across several myths and misconceptions around HIV/AIDS on a daily basis. Examples include:

  • HIV is the same as AIDS.
  • AIDS can be spread through casual contact with an HIV-infected individual.
  • HIV cannot be transmitted through oral sex
  • HIV is transmitted by mosquitoes.
  • HIV affects only homosexual men and drug users.
  • HIV antibody testing is unreliable.

The UCLA Social Network Study, commonly known as the HOPE Study, is designed to address such misconceptions through education and open dialogue. Our aim is that studies such as this will help overcome barriers, eliminate miscommunication, and in turn help to prevent HIV infection.

I think your team is doing important research. How can I volunteer at the Center? How can I spread the word about the importance of this kind of data that is collected?

We have several exciting projects going on at UCLA Center for Digital Behavior and UC Institute for Prediction Technology focusing on leveraging social media to tackle public health concerns. To find out more about current studies and publications, please visit our websites. We welcome your interest and feedback. For information about volunteer positions or how to support our work, please email us at info@digitalbehavior.ucla.edu.

The UCLA HOPE Study: What Participants Can Expect

The following Q&A is for the UCLA Social Network Health Study.

Image

What can you tell me about the participants who have already signed up for the UCLA HOPE Study?

The people who have signed up for the study are a diverse group of young Latino and Black men who are social media savvy and active in the L.A. community. They are excited to join an online discussion about health and eager to meet other men with similar interests.

What opportunities exist for participants to network with other people enrolled in the study? Do you envision opportunities for communication to extend beyond the duration of the study?

The intention of this private Facebook community is to create a safe place for our participants to have an open conversation about health activities. This is also a very organic way of meeting people with similar interests. It’s possible that participants will connect strongly with each other and want to continue networking beyond the study. We encourage participants to discuss mutual interests and have beneficial interactions. The Facebook group created for the purpose of the study will be kept active indefinitely, beyond the 12-week study period, and it is up to the participants to decide how much time they spend in the group. The door will always be open.

What do you think that UCLA might be able to learn from the study? What contribution to science are participants helping to make?

Previous studies have shown that community-based models are effective at improving health outcomes. People are generally comfortable exchanging ideas, sharing knowledge, and discussing concerns with their peers in an online forum. UCLA wants to apply this real-life model to platforms such as Facebook that reach millions of people around the world. We want to see if it is possible for people to learn from each other and make lifestyle choices that positively impact their health as a result of participating in these online groups. As a participant in this study, you will be the key to answering a very important question: can Facebook, and similar social networking platforms, potentially be used as a tool to promote health?

Tell me about your dream participant.

My dream participant is energetic and responsive! He does not shy away from asking questions and speaks up whenever he has a concern about being a participant. He understands the significance of the study and approaches it with an open mind. Finally, he is excited to have an active dialogue with his peers in the Facebook group during the 12-week period (and beyond, if he chooses). So far, all of the participants who have signed up for the study fit this description and I am thrilled to have them on board!

To join the UCLA Social Network Health study, please click here.