Study to examine HIV infection among gay black men

A new, national study on HIV infection will look at San Francisco’s gay black male community’s level of participation in HIV intervention measures – including testing, counseling and other health and social services.

The San Francisco Department of Public Health HIV Research Section AIDS Office will be conducting the San Francisco part of the UNITY study.

Among men who have sex with men in this country, black men have the highest rate of HIV infection. Jennifer Sarche, community educator for the Department of Public Health AIDS Office, said that one theory for this is that gay black men as a population have a smaller sexual network than gay white males.

"Study after study shows that black men aren’t riskier than white men," she said.

Over the next two years, UNITY will recruit more than 400 black San Francisco men who have sex with men. Participants, who will each be enrolled in the study for one year, will get testing and if necessary, counseling and treatment for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. They also will have access to treatment and assistance with mental health and substance abuse, housing, jobs and education or "anything that may be a barrier to taking care of themselves," said Chadwick Campbell, UNITY project director.

Campbell said that a lack of housing or a job, for example, makes it more difficult for people to take care of their health. Part of UNITY’s study is to see if participants are interested in services that reduce these barriers to better health.

In addition to testing, counseling and other services, people enrolled in the study will participate in interviews and focus groups with the Department of Public Health about "stigmas, discrimination and knowledge and beliefs about HIV," Campbell said. Participants will be paid $75.

Blackberri (who said that was his only name), a research associate for the UNITY study, said the study organizers are "hoping to find people who don’t know their HIV status and make them  knowledgeable of it."

Blackberri said study participants will be recruited using YouTube, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, as well as through fliers. The study was kicked off locally with a July 16 event at the Etiquette Lounge.

UNITY is also being conducted in New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston. The study is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.

For more information about enrolling in or volunteering for UNITY, call (415) 703-7277, visit or look for SFUNITY on Facebook or MySpace. More information about the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s HIV Research Section can be found at

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