Most of the literature in HIV/AIDS related anti-stigma interventions have focused on strategies to decrease stigma in those living with HIV. Very few have targeted community-based, HIV/AIDS-related stigma and most of the studies have been conducted internationally. This is especially true for the rural Deep South in the United States, where the epidemic is steadily increasing among African Americans. There is some literature that suggests that one of the major sources of HIV/AIDS-related stigma in the African American community is the organized church. This study proposes conducting and evaluating a faith-based, HIV/AIDS-related anti- stigma intervention in 10 African American churches in rural Alabama with the overall goal of decreasing HIV/AIDS-related stigma in church participants. It is believed that reaching this short-term goal could eventually decrease HIV rates in this population. The intervention is multifaceted in its approach and includes HIV/AIDS education, a seven-week training program developed by the Council of Churches in Ghana, and encouragement of participating congregations to conduct HIV/AIDS prevention activities within their congregation, as well as to welcome HIV+ persons into their congregations. We propose to decrease stigma in individual church members as well as congregational stigma through a variety of measures including: 1) increases in affiliation of HIV+ persons with participating congregations via pre- and post-surveys of members of the statewide AIDS consumer organization;2) decreases in individual stigma through pre- and post-test written assessment using a tool developed by Herek et. al., 2001;3) increases in HIV/AIDS knowledge through pre- and post-test written assessment;and 4) increases in HIV/AIDS prevention activities within participating congregations through pre- and post-pastor interviews. The proposed pilot study has great potential for an enormous public health impact as a model for similar geographic areas where the epidemic is growing disproportionately in African Americans.
It is believed that this pilot study has great relevance in public health for a number of reasons. First, it addresses a major health disparity in the United States, where African Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS than any other ethnic/racial group, more prominently in this geographic area of the United States, the rural Deep South. It is also relevant because it targets the Black church, which could play an influential role in decreasing community stigma as well as provide more opportunities to support the needs of those infected with the disease.