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WSU Researcher’s Project Aims To Boost HIV Testing Among African-Americans

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DETROIT — A grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, administered by the Michigan Department of Community Health, is helping a Wayne State University researcher’s effort to promote HIV testing among African-Americans.

Dana Rice, adjunct assistant professor of family medicine and public health sciences, has received $166,000 to expand HIV testing in the Wayne County jails to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.

“We have a huge disparity in racial and ethnic HIV rates in the United States,” she said, noting that black men and women make up only 14 percent of the general population in Michigan, but 58 percent of people living with HIV or AIDS. Officials said that from January through December 2011, 72 percent of all inmates in Wayne County jails were African-American.

“This project helps to at least tackle the primary issue of HIV prevention, which is that most people don’t know their status,” said Rice, a resident of Southfield. “We are helping to support making individuals more knowledgeable about their HIV status by providing this service in a place where there is a high-risk population.”

Her team is conducting HIV screening in county jails in collaboration with community partners. It also provides comprehensive HIV prevention services to inmates, including counseling and referrals to care for those who test positive.

That counseling helps inmates understand and reduce risk factors, and implement risk-reduction strategies to prevent them from acquiring or spreading the disease.

Researchers also inform them about the basics of HIV and how it affects the body.

The grant helps continue a program that began in 2008, when Rice was director of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Department for the Wayne County Jail Health Services Division. The first portion of the funding expires March 31, but she expects it to be extended by an additional $166,000 to last through Sept. 30.

Rice said it is important to increase HIV testing among African-Americans because of the lack of knowledge and information within the community, where she said there has been complacency because HIV- and AIDS-related deaths aren’t as prevalent as in the early 1980s, when the condition first became widely known.

Many high-risk people don’t get tested because of the social stigma associated with HIV, which still is transmitted by high-risk behaviors and compounded by other socioeconomic issues within the community, Rice said.

Research assistants will work in county jail facilities to provide rapid testing results (within 20 minutes) to all inmates on an opt-out basis. Everyone is offered the test and specifically must decline it in writing.

Providing the test as a standard service helps reduce some of the stigma associated with the test and the disease, Rice said, while encouraging and promoting healthy behaviors that researchers hope will continue when the inmates are released.

“It’s not the social norm in our society that one should know their HIV status like their blood pressure or their blood type,” she said. “We really have to change the norms in our communities and reduce the stigma to recognize that knowing one’s HIV status is vital personal health information.

“It’s also critical to public health, as we need to get people who have HIV diagnosed and linked into care to effectively reduce its transmission in the community.”

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