Today was a very interesting day. I represented the development office of AIDS Resource Center Ohio at the Central Ohio HIV Planning Alliance, or COHPA for short. This is a monthly meeting where agencies that provide health services for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS send representatives to confer with Columbus Public Health. As one of the largest service providers in the state, ARC Ohio has so many reasons to be there!
Today was particularly interesting because we went over an epidemiology study for Franklin County and a presentation over high risk heterosexual individuals. The epidemiology study was by far the most relevant part to what I am doing at my fellowship. The stats and trends that we went over showed some very interesting things. First of which was that the number of people living with HIV/AIDS increased by 9% between 2006-2009 and slowed to 7% these last 2 years. This is a great thing–it hopefully means that central Ohio is doing all of the right things to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.
Secondly, for men, male-to male sexual contact is the most common method HIV/AIDS is transmitted. However, more and more heterosexual men are also contracting HIV/AIDS. When we discussed this point, there was general agreement that there is a sense of invincibility among straight men when it comes to HIV/AIDS.
Thirdly, the most at risk population is 20-24 years of age. This is really pertinent to me as most of my friends and me are in this age range. This really brought the issue back home for me. In the same vein, while women may overall have a lower rate of infection, African American women are 8 times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS. I find this interesting because it comes down to the ability to negotiate condom usage. As an anthropology major with a focus on cultural studies, this is an issue that I find really important. The ability to negotiate safer sex practices is often viewed as a developing world problem. It’s surprising to realize it is a problem here as well.
The second part of the COHPA meeting was an assessment of two social intervention programs. The most best program to listen to was SISTA–Sisters informing Sisters on Topics of AIDS. As you can guess, it is a program focused on African American women. It was great to listen to the information about this program after seeing some of the statistics about African American women as a demographic. This program highlights the holistic approach that is necessary to change behaviors, including negotiating safer sex practices, finding pride in ethnicity, and connecting as women. The findings of the assessment were also positive in that the SISTA intervention is successful.
Overall, I really enjoyed this meeting. I also got to share our AIDS Walk updates: 145 registered and more than $7,000 raised! Also, the building that Columbus Public Health is in has great historic value. It was a great afternoon with impact.