Thomas Alex Washington, a professor of social work at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), has been awarded a two-year, $397,375 grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop and pilot-test an intervention model to increase HIV testing among young black men who have sex with men (BMSM).
“Exploring an HIV Testing Intervention Model” (TIM project) aims to explore the effectiveness of a motivational video intervention to increase HIV testing among young BMSM. The grant was funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which has made the development of HIV prevention and intervention programs tailored for BMSM a priority.
According to Washington, the rate of new HIV infections across the United States remained relatively stable from 2006 to 2009, yet the rate of new infections for young black men who have sex with men– those 18 to 29 years of age– actually increased. Thus, he reported, the impact of HIV/AIDS on black/African-American residents has been large in the United States and the state of California.
“The project is important because the number of new infections among young black men who have sex with men (MSM) is nearly twice that of young white MSM and more than twice that of young Latino MSM,” Washington explained. “Considering the elevated risk of infection and prevalence of new HIV infections among black MSM, it is vital to ensure that sexually active young black MSM get tested for HIV every six months.”
The project will use findings from Washington’s previously CSULB-RIMI (Research Infrastructure in Minority Institutions)-funded study with black MSM. Participants will use a Facebook “like” feature for discussions about HIV testing and testing sites, drug use and sexual risk behavior, and to view intervention videos.
Washington believes findings from this study may offer new e-health information and support the use of social networking to enhance HIV interventions and motivate frequent HIV testing among young BMSM. Additionally, the intervention may be useful for reaching more BMSM who may not otherwise consider testing because of stigma or limited access to knowledge about the importance of HIV testing.
“The use of a social networking site may be useful for engaging young black MSM in discussions about HIV testing, particularly those who might be difficult to reach in traditional physical spaces,” he noted. “HIV can be managed with proper care, but a first step is to become aware of one’s HIV status. “HIV prevention, HIV testing, and linkage to care, are crucial issues for reducing HIV infections in the African-American community.”
Washington, who is also a visiting professor in the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the UC San Francisco Department of Medicine during the summers of 2012 through 2014, expressed his thanks to the NIH for its award. He also said he was surprised by the award.
“I was in total shock when I realized I had been awarded an NIH grant,” he admitted. “Getting awarded an NIH grant, particularly in the present highly competitive and challenging funding climate, is no easy feat. In fact, I’m still in shock.”
Washington also expressed his gratitude for the assistance of Kevin Malotte, director of the CSULB Center for Health Care Innovation, who he said has been an amazing collaborator, supporter and advisor to him since he joined the CSULB faculty in 2008.