Background: African Americans (AA) continue to be disproportionately burdened by HIV, accounting for over 40% of new HIV cases each year. Faith-health-academic partnerships using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach have great potential to innovatively build on the strengths of Black churches to decrease HIV stigma and increase the reach of HIV testing and linkage-to-care services. Yet, limited studies have reported on how HIV testing events can be easily adopted, coordinated, and delivered within the existing church infrastructure and culture of Black churches.
Methods: Our faith-health-academic partnership, Taking It to the Pews (N=674), uses a CBPR approach to remove barriers and increase the capacity of collaborative partners to facilitate HIV and STI testing and linkage to care in AA churches on Sunday mornings and during church outreach activities. Key collaborative partners include a local health department, a community-based health clinic, and university medical school institutions. HIV/STI testing was offered during church services/ministries, survey data was collected on participant satisfaction with church-based testing, and feedback from partner organizations was noted.
Results: 9 months into screening activities, HIV testing has occurred in 7 churches over 13 Sundays and 1 outreach ministry. Overall, 225 people have been screened for HIV; 92 screened for Syphilis; and 84 screened for Chlamydia and Gonorrhea. Coordinating support from partner agencies continues to be challenging due to resource limitations, employee/volunteer availability and turnover, and the trust (or lack thereof) that the community has toward the agency partners.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that when HIV stigma is addressed in the church environment, and when testing is made easily accessible and integrated into the church infrastructure by the coordination of partners’ capacity, people will take advantage of HIV/STI testing in the “non-traditional” setting of Black churches. Sustaining the faith-health-academic partnership and maintaining capacity to provide church-based HIV testing needs continued discussion.