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Fighting AIDS at the grass-roots level

Archived article from Oct 29, 1999

By Douglas Frank  

In addition to providing on-campus health care and education, Rutgers University Health Services has taken on an important role in HIV prevention throughout the state under a three-year, $429,400-per-year grant from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.

The Organizing for Community Development (OCD) project has been "an effective tool to support the efforts of community-based organizations, AIDS service organizations, local health departments and religious organizations in reducing HIV transmission in the state," said Fern Goodhart, director of health education and the grant's principal investigator.

According to Deborah Lewis, program development specialist and Rutgers' adviser to this project, the university provides staff support and manages the process that advises the state health department on how to allocate some $18.5 million in AIDS prevention money both from the federal government and from its own funds.

"At the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, public health officials were given the money to manage the problem, but they were often unaware of the particular needs of the infected and affected communities," noted Nataly Evans, project director of OCD. "The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turned the process around and said, 'We will not allow you to spend any federal prevention dollars without concurrence by the affected communities.'"

The result is a process in which Rutgers supports and advises a 45-member HIV Prevention Community Planning Group (HPCPG), which, in turn, sets priorities on how the AIDS prevention money should be spent by local communities.

The committee consists of people with AIDS; people taking care of people with AIDS; people who work in grass-roots organizations serving people at risk for getting HIV; and behavioral scientists. "Many of these people have not been to the table before; the scientists have to learn how to listen to the community, how to be quiet and respect their experience," said Michelle Jimenez, HPCPG project director.

"Our job includes helping the community write effective grants for public and private money, and develop programs for interventions that work. We plan statewide meetings to make sure the group's process and progress are efficient and effective," Goodhart added.

All of the meetings are open to the public, and students and faculty are encouraged to participate. The OCD can be reached at ext. 2-3358 and the HPCPG at ext. 2-3740. They are CASE community partners.

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Last Updated: May 30, 2006

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