An APA program is bringing behavioral and social science
expertise to the front lines of HIV/AIDS prevention and care.
BY ANNA MILLER • Monitor staff
Kenneth Foster, PhD, first saw the face of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s while conducting research on HIV-positive patients. One, a 19-year-old man, died before the first
follow-up interview. “That drove home the reality of what we
were dealing with,” says Foster.
Today, the fight against HIV/AIDS is one that we’re closer
to winning, says Foster, now a professor of psychology at Texas
Woman’s University. “I’m less worried about people dying than
I am about getting [them] education and resources,” he says.
And that’s something Foster, working through an APA
program, can do something about. He is one of about 300
volunteers in the Behavioral and Social Science Volunteer
(BSSV) program, an effort directed by APA’s Office on AIDS
and funded through a $2.8 million agreement with the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention.
The program partners community organizations that
address HIV/AIDS with volunteer psychologists, social workers,
anthropologists and others. They play several roles, including
helping the organizations respond to the mental health aspects
of HIV prevention and care, collecting and presenting data, and
evaluating their efforts.
Since its launch in 1996, the BSSV Program has provided
face-to-face orientation training to more than 500 volunteers
and helped close to 700 community organizations across the
Such assistance is critical for these organizations, which
often lack funding or struggle to determine their communities’
needs. Many such groups have grand goals but no clear
strategies to achieve them.
“In many cases, they run on passion,” says volunteer Jason
Young, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Hunter
College of the City University of New York, who most recently
helped the Brooklyn AIDS Task Force develop a way to evaluate
What’s more, over the years, community organizations have
become more complex, says program director Edna Davis-Brown, MPH. In addition to caring for those infected, many
now also offer testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted
infections, provide housing assistance, refer people to primary-care physicians, and run needle exchange and condom
distribution programs. “They are rethinking how they provide
services and link folks up to care,” Davis-Brown says.
Foster’s project, the Texas Black Women’s Initiative, is a
statewide campaign aimed at raising black women’s awareness
of their risk for HIV/AIDS. He is working with other BSSV
volunteers, state leaders and a university colleague, Kimberly
Parker, PhD, to develop a means to evaluate whether the
campaign is successful. If it is, they expect it to serve as a model