Black men in the Deep South have been disproportionally affected by high HIV and hepatitis C virus infection rates. Conventional clinic-based screening approaches have had limited success in reaching those with undiagnosed HIV or hepatitis C virus infection. A group of researchers including Ms. Alison Footman, doctoral student, Ms. Brook Araya, undergraduate student, and Dr. Robin Lanzi, professor, all from the Department of Health Behavior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health collaborated with others to evaluate the acceptability, feasibility, and best practices of an integrated HIV and hepatitis C virus community-based health screening approach.
The study used a mixed methods approach: focus group discussion, individual interviews, and surveys that assessed perceptions, perspectives, and HIV and hepatitis C virus awareness among six communities across Alabama and Mississippi. Data were collected and analyzed in 2014–2017.
Although HIV and hepatitis C virus knowledge was limited among community members surveyed, the results of this study suggest that (1) using an integrated, community-based HIV and hepatitis C virus testing approach is acceptable and feasible; (2) formation of a community advisory board is a key element of successful community mobilization; (3) education and training of community members on disease-specific topics and overcoming stigma are essential; and (4) focus on and inclusion of young community members will be critical for the sustainability of screening efforts.
The authors concluded that including and engaging communities at risk for HIV and hepatitis C virus infection in prevention research is a promising strategy to overcome existing barriers of stigma and discrimination. Integration of HIV and hepatitis C virus testing in universal health screening efforts utilizing a Community Health Advisors model encourages unbiased communication with a focus on overall community health. Community health advisors are recognized as important agents in this effort.