In Maryland, high rates of HIV/AIDS occur in Prince George’s County, and new cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the area are above the national average. The region’s proximity to large cities like Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, increases the risk for spread of these diseases since county residents work and socialize in bordering areas.
The local health clinics are overburdened in addressing the county’s HIV/STD prevention needs. They lack the resources required to provide adequate community education and outreach and coordinate with other HIV/STD education and outreach organizations outside their jurisdiction.
Researchers are working with the Prince George’s County Health Department (PGCHD) to enhance the capacity of STD and HIV programs for prevention through the development of a collaborative network of organizations. The collaboration focuses on using technology and the Internet to increase the number of organizations working together to address factors that increase STD/HIV infection and offer residents STD/HIV prevention services.
The PATCH (Planned Approach to Community Health) model, a strategy that empowers community members by involving them in the research process, is being used to design the interventions. Through the model, community stakeholders are encouraged to connect with local and state public health agencies to create a partnership for addressing STD/HIV prevention in the area. Community members are also participating in committees and are being trained to work with researchers to participate in community-based research.
The researchers are pilot testing a number of interventions to increase HIV testing, as well as assist those with positive test results find treatment, counseling, and information about safer sex. For example, by parking prevention vans at public places, researchers give community members more access to STD/HIV programs. These programs provide residents with testing, counseling, and other services including access to educational materials and free condoms.
Additional interventions attempt to increase the efficiency of the PGHCD in reaching and serving its clients by using the Internet. Community residents have access to Web-based strategies for online referrals to receive education, counseling, and treatment. Internet surveys delivered privately as part of a doctor’s visit measure number of sexual partners and question respondents about substance abuse. Proposed information-sharing Web sites will track how residents use health resources and whether such sites can increase communication between STD/HIV organizations.
The interventions will be pilot tested to determine if they increase the number of people tested, referral rates, quality of information sharing, and use of provider services.