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Medical College of Wisconsin recognized for AIDS intervention research

A program designed and evaluated at The Medical College of Wisconsin to help prevent the spread of HIV in high-risk populations has been one of eight chosen by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for inclusion in The 2008 Compendium of Evidence-based HIV Prevention Interventions. To be included, programs must be scientifically proven to reduce HIV or STD-related risk behaviors, or promote safer behaviors.

The program known as Popular Opinion Leader HIV Intervention was developed by the College's Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR). The program takes a community-level approach for reducing the levels of high-risk sexual behaviors in populations vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. The intervention identifies those people who are naturally popular, trusted, and well-liked among others in the community population. These popular opinion leaders (POL) are then trained and guided to give HIV prevention advice to their friends and acquaintances in everyday conversations.

Research headed by Jeffrey A. Kelly, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and director of CAIR, has shown that the POL intervention when carried out in communities of gay men, inner-city women, and disadvantaged adolescents reduces levels of HIV risk behavior by approximately one-third of their earlier levels.

"The approach of identifying, training, and enlisting popular opinion leaders from within a vulnerable population is unique because it draws upon the natural strengths already present within a community to promote health and prevent disease," says Dr. Kelly. "The model is powerful because people everywhere rely on their friends for advice. This intervention takes advantage of that process to reduce high-risk behavior within an entire community."

HIV prevention is a national challenge that is addressed in communities small and large throughout the United States. The CDC's 2008 Compendium is a single source of information that informs state and local HIV prevention programs about what works for preventing HIV infections and includes a total of 57 interventions.

Reducing the burden of HIV and AIDS is a challenge, and sometimes an uphill battle. Indeed, CDC estimates that approximately 56,000 new HIV infections occurred in 2006 (the most recent year that these data were available). The Medical College is working together with the CDC and other policy makers to help change the course of the HIV epidemic in the United States.


Contact: Toranj Marphetia
Medical College of Wisconsin

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