Although the primary goal of AIDS organizations in the United States is to offer support to people who already have HIV, most also have a component that aims to prevent people from becoming infected in the first place.
The title "prevention educator" is a loose one that encompasses many possible jobs, and that has no specific training requirements. The Body's HIV Leadership Award winners include people like Fred Klingenhagen, a straight, HIV-positive man with a college degree who volunteers his time at juvenile correctional centers in central Florida, where he mixes HIV education with stand-up comedy in an attempt to encourage at-risk youths to practice safer sex. It also includes people like Perry Halkitis, who holds a Ph.D. in educational psychology and is one of the country's leading researchers on HIV prevention methods.
Many of the people employed in the HIV education/prevention field did not formally study HIV prevention -- in fact, some of the best prevention educators are those who have spent years reaching out to their own communities. Dr. Fritz Lolagne, for instance, is a native of Haiti and a onetime physician who now visits churches, community centers and radio airwaves to spread HIV awareness in central Florida, particularly among the undocumented Haitian community.
However, there are plenty of prevention educators who do have formal training -- particularly those at more senior levels, who manage groups of volunteer educators. These more senior educators often have a master's degree in public health or social work, are certified in HIV testing and counseling, are familiar with established theories on affecting people's health behavior, or excel at writing grants that can help secure critical funding. Julie Davids is one of these senior educators: As the founder and director of an organization in New York City called CHAMP, she devises the strategies that her educators will use in their workshops and counseling sessions.
But regardless of their backgrounds, qualifications or responsibilities, our award winners -- and all prevention educators -- share one common trait: They want to stop the spread of HIV by increasing awareness, understanding and responsibility, one person at a time.