Professor's Project Teaches South African Inmates Awaiting Release
About HIV and Substance Abuse Prevention Project Models Parent Program
in Four Georgia Institutions
In a country
with one of the highest rates of HIV infection in the world, groups
of South African inmates are being taught methods of HIV prevention
and substance abuse prevention. The H.I.S. Project (Health Initiative
Study), a three-year, $1 million project funded by the National Institutes
of Health/National Institute on Drug Abuse, is being led by Emory public
health professor Ronald Braithwaite, Ph.D., Department of Behavioral
Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public Health.
Dr. Braithwaite and his colleagues
are seeking to provide prevention information and skills that they believe
will positively impact the incidence of HIV transmission and drug use
among the soon-to-be-released inmates. They are also examining the health
status and concerns of inmates. Each group of participants, chosen from
four South African institutions, is awaiting discharge within four to
"This project provides us
with a unique opportunity to provide education to a captive population,"
Dr. Braithwaite says. "We are arming the inmates with a repertoire of
health education information that will better equip them to make a successful
transition into society."
At the participating institutions,
inmates in groups of eight to twelve men receive one of four intervention
methods prior to their release. The intervention methods include presentations
given by an HIV-positive peer educator who is an ex-offender, an ex-offender
who is HIV-negative or a presentation from a traditionally trained health
educator. The control group receives general health and wellness information
through films and pamphlets. The intervention methods are implemented
twice a week for six weeks.
"During the last session,
we collect information from the inmates to determine how their knowledge
and attitudes have changed since the first session," Dr. Braithwaite
says. "After their release, we follow up with them at three, six and
nine-month intervals to determine how they are adjusting to community
The project is modeled after
a Georgia project that began in 2000 and is currently being conducted
at three state prisons in Milledgeville as well as the Atlanta Transition
Center. Torrance Stephens, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the project,
is currently in South Africa to evaluate how well the approaches used
in Georgia for peer education are being adapted there.
For example, Georgia inmates
who participated in the project are issued pagers following their release
as part of the tracking protocol. In South Africa, however, facilitators
must often rely on a former inmate's village elders or kindred to mandate
that they keep in contact.
"Given the state of infrastructure
as well of the state of healthcare in African countries, it's very important
that you empower people to be in control of their own healthcare," Dr.
Stephens said. "In South Africa particularly, given the political history,
there has been very little focus on trying to maintain consistent healthcare
services for the African population. You have a lot of beliefs that
are based on their cultural orientations so you have to find a common
ground to get the messages across."
Dr. Braithwaite will join
Dr. Stephens this month in South Africa to continue to train the South
African facilitators who are implementing the H.I.S. Project.
"All we're really trying
to do is focus on working with other people, building bridges that will
assist us in the work we're doing in Georgia, and trying to serve the
healthcare needs of African-American and African men around the world,"
Dr. Stephens said.