The incidence of HIV/AIDS among African-American men who have sex with men is exceptionally high, with rates of infection approximating those reported in countries such as South Africa. Even so, this population has largely been ignored by researchers. John B. Jemmott III, Kenneth B. Clark Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School and Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center's Center for Health Behavior and Communication Research, has been awarded a $3.7-million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop an intervention strategy that targets this group of men. He and his colleagues will work with BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues), a community-based organization in Philadelphia.
“This is a population at high risk of contracting HIV/AIDS,” said Jemmott, who will lead the team comprised of researchers from Penn, Temple University, and Thomas Jefferson University. “But nationally, and historically, it has been overlooked.” Part of the reason, said Jemmott, is that many African-American men who have sex with men don’t identify themselves as gay, and thus do not participate in intervention efforts, which often are conducted in groups. The Jemmott team hopes to devise intervention strategies that involve one-on-one counseling on behavior change, particularly consistent condom use.
Philadelphia historically has recorded higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases among gay African-Americans than the national average, said Jemmott. In response, BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health Issues) was founded in 1985 and is the country’s first nonprofit to target the HIV/AIDS crisis in the African-American community. Another goal of the study will be to develop strategies that are practical and can be adapted for use by facilitators with whom the men are comfortable working. Currently, intervention efforts often are conducted by social workers, many of whom are female, which represents another roadblock to reaching this group of men. “We want to develop something that can be replicated elsewhere, something a community-based organization can use,” said Jemmott.
A total of 594 African-American men who have sex with men and range in age from 18 to 45 will be involved in the research project, which got underway April 1.