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Public survey developed to fight increase in local HIV/AIDS diagnoses

Posted by Alix Roy  February 24, 2010 10:04 AM

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A regional task force formed to address an increase in HIV/AIDS in Malden and Everett is administering an online survey to determine what residents know about the disease.  

The 10-minute survey asks for basic information about participants including age, gender, education, and ethnicity and presents them with statements about the transmission and characteristics of HIV/AIDS. Survey-takers are asked to specify their level of agreement with each statement and share whether or not they have been tested for the disease.

Malden Public Health Director Christopher Webb said communities are hoping to use survey results to determine what people know about HIV/AIDS and what population groups could benefit from further educational campaigns. Both Malden and Everett have large immigrant populations that may have missed out on public education programs prevalent in the 1980s, he said. The survey could also help explain the recent increase in HIV/AID infections in the two communities among residents between the ages of 18 and 34, Webb said.

“How are we missing them? What kinds of activities are they engaged in? Right now we're blind on the topic,” he said.

Once 500 people have taken the survey (250 from each community) the task force will submit results to the Institute for Community Health and report findings back to the community. Webb said he hopes to use the results to apply for a grant through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which would allow the cities to launch an educational campaign and conduct more detailed surveys of the public.

“Right now we're in the very early stages of a real program,” he said. “We have high hopes that a lot of great things will come of it.”

Renee Cammarata Hamilton, Malden Health Improvement Manager for the Cambridge Health Alliance and a member of the HIV/AIDS Task force, cited recent statistics in the decision to administer the survey to Malden and Everett residents. According to recent statistics released by the state Department of Public Health, Malden and Everett ranked 6th and 12th, respectively, among communities with the highest rates of HIV infection diagnosis.

More alarming are the number of concurrent HIV/AIDS diagnoses, which are cases where an individual is diagnosed with AIDS only two months after testing positive for HIV, Hamilton said. The survey should help explain the increase in concurrent cases, which could reflect of a lack of knowledge about the disease and how it is transmitted or embarrassment related to testing. People may also not be aware of the resources available to them, Hamilton.

“We want to understand how people are currently understanding HIV/AIDS,” she said, adding that the ultimate goal is to encourage all residents to get routine blood tests. “What we really want is for people to feel more comfortable getting tested.”

The survey is completely confidential and can be completed online at home or at a kiosk set up at Health Department in Malden City Hall. Students will have the opportunity to take the survey on school computers. The survey will be available until March 19, or until 500 residents have taken it.

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