As HIV infections continue to rise in some sectors of New York’s gay community, NYU and Public Health Solutions this week debuted an innovative new tool aimed at reducing high-risk sexual behaviour among gay men.

HIV is Still a Big Deal is a new online video series that follows a character named Josh, a young gay man living in Manhattan, negotiating everything from love to friendships in addition to the agony and ecstasy attendant upon each.

In the first two episodes alone – entitled The Morning After (see below) and The Test, Josh deals with issues like online hookups, unprotected sex, disclosing HIV status, and getting tested for HIV.

Directed by documentary filmmaker Todd Ahlberg (Meth, Hooked), who has been creating innovative video content for the Internet since 1997, the series represents a unique collaboration between two project directors from the very different fields of epidemiology and learning theory.

Dr. Mary Ann Chiasson is an epidemiologist and Vice President for Research and
Evaluation with Public Health Solutions, one of the largest non-profit organisations in New York City.

It merges research and action to prevent disease and improve community health.

Francine Shuchat Shaw is a faculty member of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University and a veteran researcher in learning theory and educational media.

“We’ve found that online video can be a powerful new intervention tool in the fight against HIV,” said Chiasson, who leads the Public Health Solutions Internet Research Group.

“We are seeing that it can be as effective as one-on-one outreach, but with the Internet’s scope, it has the potential to reach and influence thousands of men.”

Initially the potential effect of the series to shape behaviour among gay men seems significant.

When a sample of 500 men was surveyed three months after viewing the first episode, researchers found that they were three times more likely to disclose their status to potential partners and about 1.5 times more likely to get tested for HIV.

To support the video which is also available on YouTube, MySpace, and other popular sites that host online video there is a website, www.hivbigdeal.org, that includes background materials and links to additional resources on HIV prevention, testing, and care.

New episodes of the series are expected to air later in the year,

According to Chiasson, as subsequent episodes are produced and broadcast online, Public Health Solutions will continue to study the effectiveness of the programme.

© 2008 GayWired; All Rights Reserved.