Sep. 2, 2011
New HIV Prevention Program Focuses on Gay Male Couples
ATLANTA - A new HIV testing and counseling service developed by Emory University researchers at the Rollins School of Public Health (RSPH) and supported by the MAC AIDS Fund kicks off this week in Atlanta and Chicago.
The free program, "Testing Together," targets 200 male couples in each city over the next year and is funded by the MAC AIDS Fund, the philanthropic arm of MAC Cosmetics that supports men, women and children affected by HIV/AIDS globally. The couples will test for HIV together and receive their results at the same time with a counselor present to discuss the results.
"We know from our recent research that by testing together and getting results together couples can start an ongoing healthy conversation about HIV and talk openly about building a plan to address sexual health issues in their relationship," says project director Patrick Sullivan, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at Emory's RSPH.
"This is especially important since studies show the only group where rates of new HIV infection are rising in the U.S. is among men having sex with men," adds Sullivan.
In their initial study, published earlier this year in AIDS and Behavior (Volume 15, Supplement 1 - http://bit.ly/qu0PCJ), Emory researchers conducted focus groups with male couples in Atlanta, Chicago and Seattle to examine their attitudes toward couples-based voluntary counseling and testing (CVCT) for HIV.
"Although some were hesitant at first, the study participants indicated overwhelming support for CVCT," says Rob Stephenson, PhD, associate professor in the Hubert Department of Global Health at Emory's RSPH, who led the Atlanta portion of the study."They also saw CVCT as a forum for discussing risk-taking in a relationship."
The concept of CVCT was developed 20 years ago in Africa to prevent HIV among women, based on research by Susan Allen, MD, MPH, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, Emory School of Medicine. Allen's studies in Rwanda and Zambia show that approximately 75 percent of HIV infections among heterosexual couples come from their main sex partners.
In another study, Sullivan analyzed data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look at new HIV infections among men who have sex with men and how many of those occurred among casual sex partners. He found that two-thirds of new infections come from main sex partners.
"That observation started us thinking about Dr. Allen's intervention and adapting it for male couples," says Sullivan.
During the next year, Sullivan and Stephenson will oversee testing and counseling among male couples at AID Atlanta and the Ric Crawford Clinic (formerly AID Gwinnett), while the Howard Brown Health Center and Broadway Youth Center will offer testing and counseling in Chicago.
When the project concludes next year, researchers in Atlanta and Chicago will use the results to help develop best practices for other prevention providers desiring to provide this new HIV prevention service.
To learn more about the Testing Together program, please visit: http://www.testingtogether.org
The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.