Study seeks church partner

Published 11:40 pm Tuesday, September 10, 2013

By Josh Bergeron

The Selma Times-Journal

The black church may be the key to preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS.

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A professor at the University of Alabama—Birmingham is conducting a study to gauge the effectiveness and availability of AIDS education at historically black churches.

The study will run one year as a pilot program. Before the year ends, sociology professor Magdalena Szaflarski, who is conducting the research, said she hopes to secure $1 million through the National Institute of Health or the Centers for Disease Control to continue research. The funding would be used to make brochures, host town hall meetings and workshops, Szaflarski said.

“I can’t really do an effective study over a one year period,” she said. “Culture change takes a long time. Ideally we would collect data over many years; even a 5-year period would help to have a base-line assessment.”

The study is a follow-up on Szaflarski’s research at the University of Cincinnati.

The previous study found many churches didn’t provide educational programs, but churches with education programs were predominantly African American.

She said the Cincinnati study wasn’t able to directly link educational programs at churches to a lower HIV rate, but she hopes to gather enough data at UAB to show a connection.

“From the science perspective, we don’t know if it works better than other methods,” Szaflarski said. “It is clear that the church plays an essential role in daily life. I am interested in showing evidence that education through churches works.”

Dallas County may be a perfect spot to begin research.

The Alabama Department of Public Heath records 243 Dallas County residents as being infected with AIDS. Dallas County contains 42 percent of AIDS cases in a 7-county area, labeled Region Seven. Other counties in the region includes Choctaw, Hale, Lowndes, Marengo, Perry, Sumter and Wilcox County.

Though 243 cases may seem low, Region Seven program coordinator Janice Robbins said the number is significant in comparison to the total population.

The Alabama Department of Public Health currently hosts workshops and health fairs, but Robbins said the black church might be even more effective.

“Sometimes people are more apt to listen to the pastor because he is the leader of the congregation,” Robbins said. “Word of mouth is often the best way to spread a message.”

To get involved, Szaflarski recommended churches or individuals contact the Center for AIDS Research in Birmingham at (205) 934-2437.