Cincinnati may not be ready for the type of growth about to hit, says one UC researcher.
Magdalena Szaflarski, PhD, assistant professor of environmental health and family and community medicine at the UC College of Medicine, says that while current rates of HIV/AIDS infection in Cincinnati are relatively low compared to larger cities, the area’s rate of infection could increase significantly in the future.
"Culturally, Cincinnati is a setting where HIV and AIDS aren’t really talked about,” says Szaflarski. "Even among physicians there is a low perceived risk. In general, there is a lack of awareness and no perception of urgency here.”
Szaflarski says that in Cincinnati and elsewhere, there’s been a move to bring HIV/AIDS discussions back into focus—particularly among high-risk populations—and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), through its "Enhanced Comprehensive HIV Prevention Planning Project,” has recommended community and local intervention and mobilization efforts to create environments that support HIV prevention.
CDC estimates from 2007 show that while African-Americans made up only 13 percent of the U.S. population, they represented almost 50 percent of all people living with or diagnosed with HIV/AIDS that year.
Many cities are trying to reach the African-American community by equipping clergy and other church leaders with education and screening programs for their congregations, and Cincinnati is no exception. And while those efforts are often successful, they haven’t been evaluated or tracked in a meaningful way so that their effectiveness can be measured.
Szaflarski and the community partner agency IV-CHARIS have been awarded a grant from UC’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Training (CCTST) to create and evaluate education and prevention programs and mobilize the local faith community to address HIV/AIDS in high-risk, African-American neighborhoods.
IV-CHARIS (Compassionate Hearts Assisting, Rebuilding, Instructing and Serving) is a faith-based organization in Cincinnati established and led by Mamie Harris and co-managed by Camisha Chambers. It is certified by the Ohio Department of Health and provides confidential testing, education, prevention and intervention services.
Szaflarski and team kicked off their project with an education session on May 4 led by IV-CHARIS at the American Red Cross in Cincinnati. The event was designed to educate area church leaders about the impact of HIV/AIDS on the African-American community and begin mobilization of the community around this topic.
This kind of work isn’t new to IV-CHARIS, says Szaflarski, but gathering evidence-based data is, so the university can play an important role in the work happening in the community.
The group will host two more events—one in August (featuring leaders of the Black AIDS Institute based in Los Angeles, Calif.) and another later in the fall. Between their sessions, participating churches will work with IV-CHARIS and UC to develop programs specific for their congregations and Szaflarski and team will conduct an evaluation throughout the programming to see what’s working.
Szaflarski says that few churches are very open to conversations about HIV/AIDS, some are just opening up to the topic and others are still not willing to become part of the discussion. She hopes that the work done with IV-CHARIS will bring some of the more resistant church leaders to the table for this important health issue in the African-American community.
"You can’t change a religious doctrine,” she says. "But you can educate and say ‘you can make a difference in your community if you are willing to be more flexible and take a stand.’ And ‘what can you do with the information you have?’”
CCTST is the academic home of the university’s institutional Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.
Partners on Szaflarski’s project from the University of Cincinnati include Andrew Ruffner of emergency medicine and Yolanda Wess and Nancy Peter of the AIDS Education and Training Center, Infectious Diseases Center. Another key community partner organization is the Cincinnati Queen City Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., led by Chandra Smith.
For more information about Szaflarski’s research, visit http://eh.uc.edu/dir_individual_details.asp?qcontactid=954.