Computer Chartrooms Get AIDS Message
September 24, 2001
With the AIDS epidemic in its third decade, Marc Cohen and other AIDS-prevention advocates are invading chatrooms to get the word out. Finding new ways to reach at-risk groups -- especially young gay and bisexual men, and blacks -- long the province of AIDS awareness conferences, is now more direct and more personal thanks to cyberspace.
"We treat it as an opportunity for in-depth individual education," said Joseph Interrante, executive director of Tennessee's Nashville CARES, an AIDS organization with staff members dispensing information in chatrooms. "The education actually becomes an online counseling session," he added.
As chatroom counselors, people like Cohen, Interrante and a variety of people known by their addresses -- firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com -- give information about HIV and other topics. Most important are data about STDs and local challenges like syphilis outbreaks in Wilton Manors, South Beach and Liberty City.
Health officials say the growing infection numbers are a signal that gay and bisexual men are encouraged by news of powerfully effective drug cocktails and longer life spans and are less worried about HIV infection. "We are not the sex police," said Cohen, president of the United Foundation for AIDS, a South Beach-based group that offers counseling, HIV screening and therapy to people with the AIDS virus. "It's an awareness campaign to embrace and heal the community. It's cyber outreach."
Cohen, who spends more than 25 hours a week doing cyber outreach, thinks the Internet is opening a tremendous dialogue. "So much that went on in bathhouses and public parks now takes place in chatrooms, where people meet to engage in unsafe sex from the comfort of their living room," he said.
09.24.01; Johnny Diaz
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.