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National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Jennifer Loukissas
NIMH Press Office

New Learning Techniques Improve Global HIV/AIDS Prevention

Researchers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the National Institutes of Health, have found that advanced communication technologies — including multimedia CDs — can improve world-wide dissemination of new HIV/AIDS prevention models to providers of health services.

To combat the global spread of HIV, public health experts require quick and effective transmission of the latest behavioral intervention tools developed, primarily, in the United States. Ordinarily, scientific findings are disseminated via academic journals, read mostly by researchers. The new study, by Dr. Jeffrey Kelly and his team at the Center for AIDS Intervention Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin, identifies an effective method to translate scientific advances to providers in the field. The findings are published in the September 24, 2004, Science.

Ninety-six percent of the world’s HIV infections are not in North America but in parts of the world with little access to the latest scientific journals. Researchers must be able to report findings to providers in ways that are easily adaptable and ready to use. A key element in the study was the pairing of each local service provider, or non-governmental organization (NGO), with U.S.-based consultants from their region to help adapt prevention models to each setting. The study also helped service providers identify issues most in need of research.

The researchers tested high tech dissemination methods to communicate a strategy that enlists popular opinion leaders in local communities to convey AIDs prevention messages. In the study of 86 leading AIDS NGOs in 78 countries, they found that NGOs which were provided comprehensive training via distance learning technologies, were better able to develop and modify programs than those given just basic materials.

All of the NGOs were given the basics: a computer, subsidized internet service, access to a study website where they could network with other NGOs, and various briefing materials. In addition, 42 NGOs in the experimental group also received more targeted materials in four languages, including CDs for the opinion leaders containing a self-paced curriculum (including video and animation segments) and printable copies of all materials needed to replicate the intervention. The Stateside consultants continued to coach them for 6 months.

At followup, 43 percent of the experimental group NGOs had developed a new HIV prevention program based on the opinion leader model, compared to only 17 percent of the control group NGOs. In addition, core elements of the opinion leader model were incorporated into existing prevention programs by 55 percent of experimental group NGOs, compared to only 27 percent of control NGOs.

The next step, according to the researchers, is to develop a permanent communication infrastructure so that scientific advances reach providers more quickly.

Also participating in the research were: Drs. Karen Opgenorth, Anton Somlai, Eric Benotsch, Timothy McAuliffe, Yuri Amirkhanian, Kevin Brown, L. Yvonne Stevenson, Cheryl Sitzler, Cheryl Gore-Felton, Steven Pinkerton, and Lance Weinhardt, at the Medical College of Wisconsin; M. Isa Fernandez at the University of Miami, FL.

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