AIDS Programs In Schools Seen Reducing Risks
School-based AIDS-prevention programs can help reduce risky adolescent sexual behaviors, a new study concludes.
The study is the first to show that an AIDS-prevention curriculum taught in public schools can promote condom use and monogamy among large numbers of urban minority youths, according to the authors. The findings were published in the Aug. 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As part of the study, researchers at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center trained teachers in four New York City high schools to administer the course, which lasted one hour a day for six consecutive days.
Of the 1,201 students who participated in the project, the 477 who received the instruction demonstrated "favorable (albeit modest) changes'' in potentially dangerous behaviors.
Students who completed the course reported having fewer high-risk partners, a lower incidence of sexually transmitted diseases, more monogamous relationships, and more frequent condom use than those who had no instruction.
The teachers in the study focused on dispelling myths about AIDS and fostering improved communication. The students, ranging in age from 12 to 20, role-played ways to "say no to sex'' and practiced ways to insist on using condoms if they intended to have sexual intercourse. Condom use and abstinence were given equal emphasis, the authors said.
"This study shows that even a minimal dose of intervention, if carefully planned, can provide students with the information and skills they need to protect themselves from AIDS,'' said Dr. Heather J. Walter, a psychiatrist and the lead author.
Dr. Walter said, however, that AIDS-prevention curricula must be combined with efforts throughout education and society to insure lasting reductions in risk-taking behavior.
She and her co-author, Roger D. Vaughan, suggested that teachers recruit student leaders to be "roving ambassadors'' to promote abstinence and safe sex in less formal environments.
"If we could identify students who people looked to to set the trends, that would be another means of getting the message out,'' Mr. Vaughan said.--J.P.