A Role for Community HealthCorps Members in Youth HIV/AIDS Prevention Education

Article excerpt

The Adolescent and School Health Initiative (ASHI), a program of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), receives funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ASHI seeks to enhance the capacity of community health centers to expand and improve preventive and primary health programs for youth at risk for HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and other problems, through developing school-based or school-linked comprehensive health services in cooperation with schools in their local communities.

ASHI has developed a number of programs to increase the capacity of community health centers to provide HIV/AIDS prevention education through school-based health centers. One approach involved partnering with NACHC's Community HealthCorps program to train HealthCorps volunteers as HIV/AIDS prevention educators. Once trained, these volunteers were required to implement the training curriculum with teens in their local school districts.

BACKGROUND

HIV/AIDS Prevention Education

The teen years often involve a time of experimentation, characterized by risky behavior that can leave this population vulnerable to contracting a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS. One-half of all new infections with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and cases of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) occur in young people under age 25. (1) While many markers for the spread of HIV/AIDS have been declining, CDC reports no similar reduction in newly diagnosed HIV cases among youth. (2) Transmission of HIV in teens and young adults (considered 13-24 years old) occurs primarily through intercourse, though 10% to 15% acquire the disease through injection drug use. (3,4) Studies show that effective intervention programs emphasize abstinence and provide guidelines on prevention and safe sex for those youth already sexually active.

Be Proud! Be Responsible!, the HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum chosen for use in this intervention program, offers six components that incorporate the use of videos, interactive games, and role playing to help young people make more responsible choices about sexual behavior and practices. The curriculum's name suggests the overall theme for the lessons, which encourage youth to take pride in themselves while making responsible choices that affect themselves and their communities. The six lessons can be delivered in six days of one hour per day, three days of approximately two hours per day, two days of three each, or one day-long session.

The curriculum, validated in clinical trials, has proven effective in changing the HIV risk behavior of young adults. Initial research using Be Proud! Be Responsible! focused on the impact of intervention with inner city youth. (3-5) Further tests found that the curriculum was also effective when used with other target populations. (6)

HealthCorps Member Trainees

The Community HealthCorps includes a partnership among NACHC, the Corporation for National and Community Service, and 18 community health centers located nationwide. Since its inception in 1995, more than 950 HealthCorps members have provided more than 328,000 encounters in 32 communities to medically underserved individuals, helping them to receive and better use primary and preventive health care and social services.

Community HealthCorps members serve at community health centers, work with adolescents, and provide health education, case management, and other support services. These capabilities made the HeathCorps team well suited to partner with ASHI. Participating sites were selected based on a strong desire and motivation to implement HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs for adolescents in their communities, and those health centers already had initiated or planned to launch an HIV/AIDS prevention and education program for youth. Following a competitive application process, ASHI selected 20 HealthCorps volunteers--13 HealthCorps members and seven coordinators--to receive training as HIV/AIDS prevention educators. …