STD Awareness Month 2018: The Value of a Community of Practice

Written by Nikole Gettings, Intern on NACCHO’s HIV, STI, and Viral Hepatitis Team

The State of Sexual Health in African-American Men
As rates of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among racial and ethnic minorities continue to rise, local health departments and community-based organizations are continuously exploring effective methods of reaching these populations with sexual health messaging and education. Effective use of social media and social marketing techniques can improve and effectively disseminate health promotion messages targeting sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in underserved populations. One such population is African-American men.

In 2016, African-American men experienced the highest reported rates of primary and secondary syphilis and gonorrhea across all other races/ethnicities and genders, as well as the highest rates of chlamydia among all other racial/ethnic groups. Improving and addressing male SRH needs, particularly in adolescent and young adult populations, are concrete objectives in Healthy People 2020. The benefits of addressing male SRH contribute to improving the lives of individual men and boys, but also extend to their partners, children, families and communities. Yet, compared to female SRH needs, men – particularly heterosexual men – receive minimal attention in literature, clinical health services, and community-based and population health interventions. Additionally, limited guidance exists on effectively reaching African-American men with SRH health promotion messages.

Health is Power (HisP), a social marketing campaign created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Division of STD Prevention (DSTDP), was specifically designed for heterosexual African-American men, ages 18-30, and seeks to promote positive sexual behaviors through a multi-phased campaign with strength-based messaging around increased condom use, healthy relationships, STD testing and prevention, and open partner communication. The “Health is Power Toolkit” provides various health promotion tools including customizable posters, postcards, social media messages, web banners, and “drop in” website articles. The availability of these resources allows for further dissemination of the HisP messages along with the option to further evaluate the efficacy of HisP messages within local communities.

Creating Support through a Community of Practice
In 2016, NACCHO and CDC partnered with two community-based organizations and one local health department to implement a demonstration site project focused on implementing and evaluating local HisP campaigns. Demonstration sites chose to either use the original HisP messages or develop their own messages and images based on the strength-based principles supported by HisP.

From late 2017 through early 2018, the HisP demonstration sites, located in Baltimore, Houston, and New Orleans, began implementing and evaluating their HisP campaigns. All sites identified a desire for additional opportunities to learn from one another and from experts in the fields of social media and promotional health messaging. In particular, sites hoped to share best practices for overcoming identified project barriers and the limited resources available to address the SRH needs of African-American heterosexual men, as well as in increase their capacity to implement effective campaigns. This led to the creation of the Health is Power Community of Practice (CoP). A CoP allows people working on a particular issue to deepen their knowledge and expertise by interacting with other groups or individuals with similar interests or specialized skills. The CDC identifies CoPs as a potentially useful public health framework allowing for networking and group problem-solving. The CoP approach can be especially useful in situations like HisP where the knowledge or skills needed are not widely available.

Due to geographic distance, the HisP CoP cannot interact face-to-face but members committed to attending a total of four 90-minute webinars over six months. During each of these webinars, virtual meeting technology is used to engage in interactive activities including polling questions, document and resource sharing, real-time chats, and group discussions. Each webinar also contains structured activities including a “site highlight” segment where one demonstration site provides an in-depth overview of their campaign materials and activities; a brief informational session on an identified technical assistance topic; and dedicated time for CoP members to ask questions, share experiences, and engage in group problem-solving.

These activities allow interactive learning and encourage resource sharing between sites. For example, during the first webinar, one site presented lessons learned in developing and implementing their HisP social media campaign. Other sites enthusiastically reported that the examples provided encouraged them to look for ways to use images and messaging to actively address local negative perceptions of STD clinics among young men. During this same meeting, the information session covered ways to track and evaluate social media outreach. Sites indicated that this information was critical to increasing knowledge about using different analytical tools to track and evaluate efforts to reach the target audience.

After completion of two CoP webinars, sites have reported positive feedback on the benefits of the CoP sessions, which include enhanced resource- and information-sharing and increased knowledge. The two remaining CoP sessions will focus on supporting the sites’ campaign dissemination and evaluation strategies. Learn more about the ways a CoP might contribute to positive networking and problem-solving in your public health work.

In the coming months, NACCHO will be sharing additional updates about the HisP projects and their community work. Stay tuned!

About Kim Rodgers

Kim Rodgers serves as a Communications Specialist at NACCHO. Her work includes promoting local health departments' best practices, as well as partner tools and resources, in infectious disease and preparedness through NACCHO's communications channels, storytelling, and outreach to various audiences.

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