Study shows positive effects of HIV prevention programs

by Emily Dalnodar

HIV prevention programs are essential not only to fighting the disease early but also to reducing overall medical costs in the future, according to a recent study.
Through means of outreach, referral and advertisements, Gary Remafedi, a University doctor and assistant professor of pediatrics, discovered such programs have a positive effect on young gay men.
Remafedi used statistics from 10 years of prevention programs to determine that the number of homosexual males having unprotected sex is down 60 percent since the inception of such programs.
Remafedi, who works in the University’s Youth and Aids Projects, said the main function is to help high-risk youth and prevent HIV infection. The programs are funded primarily through the Minnesota Department of Health.
But the findings also revealed other benefits from the programs. Remafedi used an economic model to weigh the cost of the program with the costs of treating HIV and AIDS after the fact.
“We figured out how much we would save based on the reported changes in participants,” Remafedi said.
The economic model takes into account the number of infections avoided and medical costs saved because of the programs and the years of productivity in a human’s life. All these things together add up.
For each dollar spent on intervention and education, $9.65 is saved in the long run for medical expenses from contracting a virus, the report showed.
“Prevention programs don’t need to be 100 percent effective to be cost effective. Even a modest change in behavior can have an enormous impact on HIV in the future,” Remafedi said.
Some say prevention programs already have had an impact on today’s young gay population.
There is a different attitude toward unprotected sex, said Brandon Lacy, a College of Liberal Arts junior who has worked with gay education outreach programs in the past.
One of the most important aspects of intervention is that peers educate each other instead of just adults or teachers, Lacy said.
The intervention program at the Youth and Aids Projects involves risk assessment, group and peer education, referral to physical and medical services and follow-ups.
“I think the thing to remember is that you’re playing a game that is the sexual version of Russian roulette. It’s your life. It’s not a game,” Lacy said.
While this is good advice for anyone who is sexually active, it is not something that everyone can follow.
There is a disproportionate number of homeless youths who identify themselves as homosexuals or transsexuals, said Michael Haley, program organizer for the Minneapolis Youth Diversion Program. Haley deals with the homeless youth population there; he estimates about 35 percent of them are either transsexual or homosexual.
“The instances of HIV infection are not going down in the homeless population. College students have a lot more access to the information. We provide those things, but it’s harder,” Haley said.
Young people on the streets end up exchanging sex sometimes for basic needs, Haley said. There’s not a lot of negotiation about condoms when it is a survival thing, he said.