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Service grant to address HIV, substance abuse

by Mary Helen Yarborough
Public Relations
A $1.68 million service grant awarded to MUSC will be used to address a high rate of HIV and substance abuse among African-American adolescents in the Lowcountry.
The five-year grant, which will establish the Charleston County Teen and Family Ethnic Minority Program-Outreach and Web-based Education for Risk Reduction (EMPOWERR Program), was awarded Sept. 30 to the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It was one of numerous grants awarded across the country, which focuses on using SAMHSA’s Strategic Prevention Framework, a prevention process based on community needs to build substance abuse and HIV/AIDS prevention capacity for traditionally underserved communities.
MUSC’s application focused on African-American adolescents (age 12-17), because the rate of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans in Charleston County is more than four times the baseline required to qualify for the grant, and the HIV/AIDS rate among youth in Charleston County has continued to rise over the years.
“We have a very high rate of HIV here, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control,” said Carla Kmett Danielson, Ph.D., the principal investigator and EMPOWERR Program director. “We needed a minimum ratio of 10 per 100,000 HIV/AIDS cases to apply for the grant.
Among metropolitan areas, HIV/AIDS cases in Charleston-North Charleston rank 29th in the nation. Charleston County has a 43.6 per 100,000 rate overall among African-Americans. Further, youth aged 13-19 years have shown consistent increases in HIV/AIDS rates in Charleston County between 1997 (3.6 per 100,000 at that time) and 2005 (12.9 per 100,000).
The impetus of the program is to identify and reduce the onset of substance abuse and the transmission of HIV/AIDS in conjunction with community-level public and private entities.
“The primary goal of the grant is to bring empirically-supported HIV and substance abuse prevention services to the African-American youth in Charleston County,” said Danielson.
Danielson will lead the EMPOWERR program team, which will consist of multiple MUSC co-investigators. These co-investigators include Michael de Arellano, Ph.D., Alyssa Rheingold, Ph.D., Ken Ruggiero, Ph.D., and Benjamin Saunders, Ph.D., from the National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center (NCVRTC); Janice Key, M.D., director of adolescent medicine. Co-investigators Alesia Hawkins, Ph.D., and Marty Strachan, Ph.D., NCVRTC postdoctoral fellows, will serve as liaisons between the adolescents and families served by the program and its community partners.
A workgroup for the program will draw upon the HIV and substance abuse prevention expertise of numerous community partners and consultants, including Jacob White, M.D., deputy director of the S.C. HIV/AIDS Council.
Two other primary community partners for the program will include Lowcountry AIDS services and the Charleston County Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services (Charleston Center).
The first phase of the program will include a community needs assessment to identify the affected teens, their caregivers and families.
Danielson said that once a needs assessment is completed, the study will adapt empirically-based interventional strategies, including Sisters Informing Healing, Living and Empowering; Be Proud, Be Responsible for Young Men; and Family Matters, for the local African- American teen population to be offered through community-based and Web-based delivery.
Other services will include case management to provide support to the teens and their families. Information tools teens could easily access are being developed, including a Web site, and various audio/visual recording devices that would help ensure privacy for the teen. A hotline also will be available for teens and parents to call for information on HIV/AIDS and help obtaining information on testing, referrals and transportation.
“The goal has to be prevention; preventing the spread of the disease,” Danielson said. “We will act as a triage to make sure those youth affected get treated.”

Nov. 21, 2008

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