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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
WISCONSIN: Risk Factors for HIV in Gangs to Be Studied: Interviews to Be Held with Local Members
Karen Herzog
January 26, 2012
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (01.24.12) - Thursday, January

The Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) will use a four-year, $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's National Institute on Drug Abuse to study HIV risks among teen gang members. The knowledge gained will be used to tailor HIV prevention interventions specific to this population.

More than 450 Milwaukee gang members ages 14-19 will be interviewed. These high-risk youths will be indentified and recruited by peers and through community-based groups. Eligible participants will spend about 1.5 hours completing an in-depth interview and receive $30.

Researchers and health care providers have become increasingly concerned about HIV-related risk behaviors among youths, especially African-American and Latino teens, said Julia B. Dickson-Gomez, the study's principal investigator and a professor and faculty member at MCW's Center for AIDS Intervention Research. While most prevention is focused at the school or community level, little has been developed for those high-risk teens, like gang members, who are less likely to attend school and receive targeted HIV education, she said.

"Part of the research will question the level of gang organization, and how that affects HIV risk," said Dickson- Gomez. "One risk behavior may compound another." According to Dickson-Gomez, Milwaukee has a "perfect storm" of conditions for encouraging youth gangs: poverty, "alarmingly high rates of risky sex," low high school graduation rates, and a high teen birth rate. Gangs vary in size and structure, from neighborhood-based groups to highly organized, corporate- style gangs that tend to have female members, formal rules, and initiation rites. Girls will comprise at least 20 percent- 40 percent of the interviews.