There is great concern regarding the disproportionate number of African Americans among AIDS cases in the U.S. While African Americans constitute only 13% of the U.S. population, they account for over 50% of AIDS cases. This is combined with an under-representation in utilization of AIDS services, including medical regimens that could prolong life expectancy. In response to this alarming trend, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) funded a number of cities across the U.S. to implement service outreach programs to African American communities. In Austin, these CBC funds were used to launch the BOSS (Brothers OR Sisters Support) Program to bring HIV-positive African Americans into HIV/AIDS care at an earlier stage of their illness. The BOSS Program utilizes Peer Supporters (other HIV-infected or affected persons of color) who provide culturally-appropriate outreach in targeted communities. Peer supporters act as “buddies” and provide emotional support to increase retention rates among African Americans receiving services. In addition, for six months, peer supporters utilized an informal, ethnographic approach to obtain information on demographic, attitudinal, and knowledge variables that may impact utilization of AIDS services for African Americans.

The Faculty Development Program at the University of Texas supported the analysis of the BOSS Program data. This study explores whether or not the Peer Supporter model is effective in helping to retain African Americans in HIV/AIDS services and analyzes the ethnographic interviews conducted by Peer Supporters. Findings suggest that the AIDS stigma within the community, lack of information, and mistrust of service providers are factors influencing non-engagement in services among the sample of 79 HIV-positive African Americans. Moreover, peer supporters are successful in nearly 75% of cases in helping to retain African American clients in services.

Faculty Research Award, The University of Texas at Austin