Tech-based HIV prevention program proves effective for rural African American families

Velma Murry (photo: Vanderbilt University)

Technology may be a viable option for reducing HIV risk in underserved families in rural communities, according to a new Vanderbilt report.

Researchers designed and evaluated the effectiveness of a technology-delivered HIV risk prevention program, Pathways for African American Success, to address the comparatively high HIV rates in rural African American communities. PAAS is designed specifically to increase informational access to such communities, which are less likely to have access to in-person HIV support and prevention programs found in larger cities.

“Our findings suggest that the PAAS technology-delivered program is just as effective as an in-person, facilitator-led small group in dissuading HIV-related risk behaviors among rural African American youths,” said lead author Velma McBride Murry. “This fun, interactive program allows families to access sessions at their convenience and own pace, addressing a gap in eHealth digital programs.”

Murry, who holds the Lois Autrey Betts chair in Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development, collaborated with colleagues at Clemson University and Arizona State University on the study. They found that compared with families who met with a facilitator in person, those in the PAAS online group demonstrated significantly stronger parent-child communication, including improved discussion quality, clearly articulated norms and parental expectations about risk engagement.

Participants also reported reduced intentions to engage in risky behaviors six months post-intervention.

Technology-delivered programs for HIV prevention also are promising because they are more cost-effective and less labor-intensive than traditional small group-based preventive intervention programs.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health grant MH063043 and the Lois Autrey Betts chair in Education and Human Development.