UA Researchers Win Grant to Study How Congregations Can Reduce AIDS Stigma
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama researchers have received a multiyear grant to examine the role that African-American congregations can play in reducing HIV/AIDS-related stigma in rural Alabama.
Dr. Pamela Foster, deputy director of the UA Institute for Rural Health Research, is principal investigator of the $530,368 grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Foster is also an assistant professor in the College of Community Health Sciences’ department of community and rural medicine. Dr. Susan Gaskins, a professor in the University’s Capstone College of Nursing, is senior investigator on the project.
The purpose of the four-year study, funded by the CDC’s Minority AIDS Research Initiative, is to conduct and evaluate an HIV/AIDS anti-stigma related intervention among 10 African-American congregations in rural Alabama. The overall goal of the project, “Faith-Based Anti-Stigma Intervention Toward Healing HIV/AIDS,” or Project FAITHH, is to decrease both individual and community-wide stigma in these congregations.
As part of their research, Foster, Gaskins and Myra Vickery, a graduate research assistant on the project, will conduct daylong HIV/AIDS seminars and a seven-week anti-stigma intervention that has been adopted by a ministerial group in Ghana, Africa. Project activities in the targeted congregations will measure changes in HIV/AIDS knowledge, as well HIV/AIDS-related stigma.
Four ministerial liaisons representing different denominations and organizations will assist Foster and Gaskins in their research: the Rev. Chris Spencer, assistant director of UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships and pastor of St. Matthew-Watson Missionary Baptist Church in Boligee; the Rev. Sam Gordon III, pastor of Macedonia CME Church in Goshen; the Rev. Willie Smith, pastor of Salem Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Letohatchie; and the Rev. John Meeks, a member and former president of the New Era Baptist Conference.
Other partners include the Alabama/NW Florida Regional Minister of Disciples of Christ and the Alabama Consumer Advisory Board, whose membership includes HIV-positive individuals.
In addition to decreasing stigma and increasing HIV knowledge, Project FAITHH hopes to increase the number of HIV/AIDS prevention activities in which congregation members participate, as well as increase the number of HIV positive people who become members of participating churches.
Finding effective strategies to decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma is a major challenge in HIV/AIDS prevention research, Foster said. In addition, few strategies have been tested in rural African-American communities in the Deep South, particularly among faith-based leaders and their congregations, where stigma may be higher.
“We know from previous research that HIV positive persons value spirituality in their overall healing process,” Foster said. “However, they have often not become active members of rural congregations because of the stigma. We hope to turn that around with the study.”
Because stigma has also been addressed as a reason for the slow response of African-American church leadership to participate in prevention activities within their congregations and communities, “Strategies to decrease HIV/AIDS-related stigma, particularly among African-American church leaders such as pastors, is believed to be a strategy that could increase HIV/AIDS prevention activities in the African-American community in the rural Deep South,” Foster said.
Foster and Gaskins have conducted research on stigma associated with HIV/AIDS. In particular, they have focused on HIV/AIDS-related stigma in rural African-American communities, stigma of HIV/AIDS in older, rural African-Americans living in the South, disclosure issues among rural African-American men infected with HIV, and faith-based approaches to HIV/AIDS prevention.
The College of Community Health Sciences was established in 1972 in response to the state’s acute need for more primary care physicians. Many areas of Alabama, particularly small towns and rural communities, suffered from a serious lack of health care. Four decades later, the College has made significant strides in making health care more available and accessible in the state.
Approximately 700 medical students have received their third and fourth years of clinical training at the College. Of these graduates, more than half have chosen careers in primary care. The College’s Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency has seen similar success, placing nearly 400 family medicine physicians into practice, with more than half of those in Alabama and the majority of those in towns with fewer than 25,000 residents.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.