Penn Study Will Investigate HIV-Testing Awareness Using Videos on Los Angeles Buses

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Media Contact:Joe Diorio | jdiorio@asc.upenn.edu | 215-746-1798June 16, 2011

PHILADELPHIA -- A University of Pennsylvania study will determine if public transit can convey more than people going from point A to point B. Video displays on public buses in Los Angeles will be used to help determine the efficacy of an innovative soap opera-like video program designed to increase HIV testing among low-income African Americans 14 to 24 years of age.

The program, “Reality Check,” a structured intervention program developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be shown on video monitors on public buses over a 27-week time-frame. Each three-minute episode of the show will display for one week on buses on a Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Back episodes will be available on a YouTube link from the transit company website. Each episode of “Reality Check” explores relationships and decision-making among a group of young African Americans. The episodes carry an underlying message to get tested for HIV.  View a series of episodes here.     

The study is an effort being led by Professor John B. Jemmott III from Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and Annenberg School for Communication.   Co-investigators are Penn alumni Robin Stevens and Julie Cederbaum; Christopher Coleman, associate professor in the Penn School of Nursing; Scarlett Bellamy, associate professor in Penn's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics; and Ann O’Leary, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. It is funded by a research grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Young African Americans are becoming infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases at alarming rates,”   Jemmott said.  “Social factors affecting their risk include poverty, poor access to preventive medical services and homophobia, which causes some men who have sex with men to be secretive about these activities and to be reluctant to be tested for HIV. Unfortunately, many of those infected with HIV are unaware of their infection and may be transmitting it, especially during the highly infectious acute infection stage. On the other hand, those who test positive reduce their risk-related behavior dramatically.”

The structural intervention of the program “Reality Check” will use a quasi-experimental control group design with pre- and multiple post-intervention assessments. Riders of public buses in impoverished African American neighborhoods in Richmond, Calif., will serve as the control. Cross-sectional anonymous bus stop surveys of African American youth ages 14-24 who ride the bus through—and reside in--designated impoverished areas of both cities at least three times each week will be conducted before “Reality Check” is shown in Los Angeles, immediately after it is shown, and three and six months after it is shown. The study sample will include 200 youth who exit buses in each of the two cities at each of the four assessment points, for a total of 1,600 participants.   

“This research would provide preliminary evidence of the effects of an intervention that could be disseminated very cost-effectively, with substantial reach via public buses,” Jemmott said.

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