Intervention, based on African concept of Eban, could be key to reducing risky behavior among couples of differing HIV status
A new study has found that heterosexual African American couples in which only one partner is HIV-positive practiced safer sexual behaviors after participating in a culturally specific intervention program designed to reduce the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
The program, based on Eban, an African concept which symbolizes "safety, security and love within one's family and relationship space," was designed not only to reduce risky sexual behaviors but to increase couples' ability to communicate with each other, make safer behaviors more appealing, stay in healthy relationships and respect their communities, according to researchers.
Compared with couples in a comparison intervention program, those who received the Eban-based HIV/STD risk-reduction intervention reported more frequent and consistent condom use and fewer acts of unprotected sex. These effects were maintained over all follow-up assessments.
The findings from the study, published in the online edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine, suggest that culturally specific interventions may be the key to bringing about beneficial changes in sexual behavior. This study is the first to report a significant reduction in risky behavior among heterosexual African American couples.
"As our nation strives toward more personalized medicine, the conscientious development of treatments that address the needs of a specific population are an important step," said study co-author Gail Wyatt, director of UCLA's Center for Culture, Trauma and Mental Health Disparities and associate director of the UCLA AIDS Institute. "Sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, are disproportionately affecting African Americans, who comprise 13 percent of the U.S. population but 49 percent of all new HIV infections."
Research has shown that heterosexual African American couples are at greater risk of HIV transmission than their white counterparts, suggesting the need for culturally specific interventions. In addition, although the majority of African American women are infected through heterosexual contact with a regular sexual partner, there has been a relative lack of research on heterosexual African American couples in which only one partner is HIV-positive.
To address this issue, study investigators in four cities with high HIV infection rates - Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New York - conducted a multi-site study with Dr. Willo Pequegnat, scientific adviser at the National Institute of Mental Health. They tested the efficacy of a couples-based randomized controlled trial comparing the HIV/STD risk-reduction program with an intervention focused on general health promotion.