Wednesday, February 4, 2009

BCI LINK: A Social Networking Approach to HIV Prevention

One of our biggest challenges in meeting the goals of Delaware's Needle Exchange is how to reach those most at risk for HIV. With 12 positives found in two years, we know there are more yet to be discovered. As it was reported last summer, fewer minorities are enrolled in the Needle Exchange despite their disproportionately high risk. Typically, these injection drug users are mistrustful of law enforcement, have never been tested for HIV, and are not involved in any treatment program. As resourceful as our outreach workers are, we can never elicit everyone’s trust. So if someone won’t listen to an indigenous outreach worker, who will they listen to? We think the answer is their own peers who are already participating in the Needle Exchange.

Brandywine Counseling has launched a new recruitment strategy based on peer to peer networking, called BCI LINK. We will use existing social networks to promote HIV awareness, the Needle Exchange program, and drug treatment. Specifically, all participants in the Needle Exchange will be offered an incentive to recruit others in their social networks. The approach is evidence-based and has shown that that the incentives also increase adherence to the program.

The great thing is, we assume we already have people who collect and exchange used syringes from their peers. BCI LINK will train these individuals as “Connectors” to reach out and draw in their peers (“Crew Members”) who otherwise would not enroll. The effect will be that BCI reaches greater penetration levels within the community. Every Connector and Crew Member is required to be tested for HIV. We will also learn more about trends in needle-sharing, intravenous drug use, and HIV infection in Wilmington.

What’s more, because BCI LINK takes advantage of established patterns amongst Wilmington’s injection drug users, it has the potential to grow exponentially, reaching ever-larger groups of at-risk drug users. The graphic above shows the results of a similar program in Philadelphia that showed great success after a year and a half.

We began BCI LINK one week ago, and have already enrolled 6 Connectors and 5 Crew Members. We are truly excited to bring this approach to Wilmington. Stay tuned as we report on our progress and results.

Graphic c/o Howard Wasserman for Prevention Point Philadelphia.

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