Family-based HIV prevention study of young men who have sex with men

Is it it time for HIV prevention programs for young men who have sex with men to involve families and parents - similar to approaches used for other adolescent/young adult populations? This is the question asked by a team of investigators at Children's Memorial Hospital, Howard Brown Health Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. HIV surveillance data suggest that in the U.S., the majority of HIV-infected adolescent males and young adult men are infected through having sex with other men. However, there are few intervention efforts targeting this vulnerable population, and no family-based approaches, despite the fact that these approaches have shown promise with other groups of young people.

The Chicago team conducted a survey of a community-based urban sample of more than 300 ethnically diverse young gay and bisexual men that assessed HIV and substance use risk and psychosocial variables. Participants reported on family disclosure or each parent’s knowledge of and reaction to their sexual minority status. In this sample, the majority of parents, especially mothers, were both aware and accepting of their sons' sexual orientation. As in studies of heterosexual youth, family factors were found to be significantly associated with HIV. These results suggest that family, specifically parents, may be a feasible and potentially under-utilized resource for HIV prevention efforts for this high-risk group in certain communities.

Rob Garofalo, MD, MPH, lead author on the study, said, "In HIV prevention circles, these data may generate a fair amount of discussion, given (1) concerns over the recent rise in HIV cases in this population, and (2) the novelty of considering a family-based or parental approach towards prevention. I think many people automatically discard the possibility of involving families or parents in HIV prevention activities for young gay and bisexual men - thinking that the stigma of a sexual minority identity might preclude involvement. However, our data suggest otherwise; many youth in our community are 'out' to supportive family members who might be used creatively and effectively in comprehensive efforts targeting this very high-risk group."

Garofalo is Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and an attending physician in General Academic Pediatrics (Adolescent Medicine) at Children's Memorial. He also serves as Deputy Director/Director of Youth Services at the Howard Brown Health Center. The study will be published in the July 2008 issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, and was supported by the NIH through grants to Dr. Garofalo.

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