May 30, 2013
Case Western Reserve University runs an Infectious Disease Alliance, a grant-funded program linking the university's research to community needs. Known as the "ID Alliance," the program relies on peer educators who help combat a growing local and national health crisis. In 2012, new cases of HIV in Cuyahoga County reached the highest level in six years, with black males ages 1619 accounting for all 11 HIV infections among teens. According to CDC, one out of every four new HIV infections in the United States occurs in 1324-year-olds.
Amanda Healan, a co-director of the ID Alliance, stated, "The idea is to reach teens before their sexual debut, so they have information on how to have safe sex before they have sex." The ID Alliance trains peer educators in sexual education and self-defense, and provides medical specialists as teachers, including a sexual assault nurse examiner. The four peer educators, chosen from a group of 37 local high schools applicants, spent the last months of this school year collaborating on a public health campaign targeting teens in high-risk ZIP codes. They worked in a local clinic, talking to teens one-on-one, and taught at after-school programs. The peer educators grew up in the neighborhoods as their target audiences and are aware of the odds they face in fighting HIV and STDs.
According to the Cuyahoga County Health Department's recent data, Cuyahoga County reported 364 new HIV cases in 2012, bringing the total to 4,591 HIV-positive residents; in 2011, blacks comprised 67.2 percent of all chlamydia cases in Cuyahoga County and 77.1 percent of all gonococcal infections, which are caused by gonorrhea; and in 2011, teens ages 1519 accounted for 41.8 percent of all chlamydia cases in the county.
The ID Alliance's peer education program has been in high demand since its June 2012 launch. Angel Brown, a senior program manager for Advocates for Youth, declared, "The value of peer educator programming is that it has far greater reach than adults could ever have." Healan noted the challenge of retaining the peer educators, with some of them graduating and going on to college. She stated that next year, the ID Alliance intends to pair up the new recruits with senior peer educators to motivate them to stay in the program.