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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
Her Hot Line Helps Quell Teen AIDS
Yonat Shimron
May 27, 2003
News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.) (05.18.03) - Tuesday, May 27,

Since the first appearance of AIDS more than 20 years ago, Gretchen Durham has been committed to educating the public on HIV/AIDS prevention - work that, earlier this month, earned her recognition from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Durham, 63, helped establish a national hot line for teens and spends her Friday and Saturday nights with teenagers talking about sex - frequently in the most graphic detail. Along with her young friends, Durham fields calls from teens throughout the United States and Canada desperate for reliable AIDS information.

The project began in 1994, when Durham and a group of local teens brainstormed about ways to reach teens with HIV prevention. Determining that teens would shy away from a hot line manned by adults, the team decided that peer education would be more effective. With a small grant from United Way, Durham began a 20- hour training program for the teens, coaching them on the basic dynamics of human sexuality, prevention and transmission of HIV, and telephone communication skills. Durham monitors the calls and occasionally gets on the phones when needed. Durham hopes that working on the hot line will teach the teens, and those they talk to, to protect themselves. "She treats us all like equals. She thinks we're mature enough to handle it, and she's adamant that it's important," said Amy Lowman, 18, a high school senior who has been working on the hot line since her sophomore year.

Durham's work is distinguished by her ability to broach sensitive issues in a direct and straightforward way, said Charles van der Horst, a UNC-Chapel Hill professor of medicine and an AIDS expert, who selected Durham for the award. But Durham maintains the credit goes to the kids. "I wish people could see kids doing something like this instead of the stuff that gets them into the paper," she said.