The Voices of Experience

The Voices of Experience

Nursing faculty assist local women in HIV prevention program

A film about HIV-positive women who use their experiences to warn younger women about the perils of HIV is the centerpiece of an intervention and prevention program recently co-developed by the Connell School of Nursing.

CSON faculty members Rosanne DeMarco (right) and Anne Norris (second from right) and CSON Dean Barbara Munro (center) with "Women's Voices, Women's Lives" participants (L-R) Catherine Dubois Gaynes, Sandra Newton, Quenell Tatum and Tona Hines at the film's April 3 premiere. (Photo by Suzanne Camarata)
Titled "Women's Voices, Women's Lives," the film depicts African American women from Boston talking candidly about living with HIV.

CSON Media Specialist Chad Minnich produced and directed the film, while CSON faculty members Assoc. Prof. Anne Norris and Asst. Prof. Rosanna DeMarco served as the project's nursing researchers.

The CSON researchers say the film is intended as an educational tool for professional and lay groups who deal with social, youth and health issues, but also will be made available through the Internet to its true target audience: African-American female teenagers whose knowledge of HIV and its long-term effects may be, at best, limited.

"There is a false belief that HIV is a treatable disease," said Norris, an expert on HIV-risk behavior. "But the medication regime is very complicated and if it is not followed properly it can lead to a mutation that cannot be treated."

DeMarco added, "We want young people to see the dark side: the medications people on HIV have to take and their horrible side effects." The women in the film endure weight gain and other side effects related to the medication, she notes, and in one case require a tonsillectomy to be able to swallow the pills.

On April 3, more than 100 people attended a preview of "Women's Voices" and a panel discussion with the women, who shared their experiences in making the film and their recommendations to service providers as to how to best meet the needs of HIV-positive people, especially women. The event, held in Cushing 001, was sponsored by CSON and cosponsored by Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee, AHANA Student Programs, and AIDS Awareness.

The film's subjects are from the Healing Our Community Collaborative, which provides health services and educational programs for women at risk of, or living with, HIV. HOCC is co-sponsored by CSON, Boston Medical Center and the Center for AIDS Care and Research.

DeMarco and Norris credit the HOCC clients for coming up with the idea for the project. "They fully collaborated on it," said DeMarco, "so we could produce a culturally-relevant and gender-sensitive program for African American girls."

"Women's Voices" is a powerful example of using intergenerational education and film as a medium for fostering behavioral change, the CSON faculty members say.

"There is a tradition in the African-American community of pulling the next generation along," said Norris. "This film, with the older women sharing their wisdom, works well for this cultural group. These women use the language and have the background of the younger women they are targeting. It is very powerful to have someone who looks like you give you this message. It all works to create something meaningful and relevant."

The Internet portion of the project will offer teens password-protected access, through BC's World Wide Web facilities, to chat rooms, e-mail and topical links as well as the "Women's Voices" video.

Erin Hackett '02, Margaret Driscoll '03 and graduate students Heather Norton and Mary McCurry also worked on "Women's Voices." The project has been supported through a Boston College Research Incentive grant and other University funding.

DeMarco, who praised BC for its support, adds that she and Norris are seeking additional external funding for the project. Johnson & Johnson is supporting a pilot of the intervention program at a Boston area drop-in center this summer, she said, and the Boston Public Schools are expected to introduce it sometime in 2004.

Minnich and the researchers also hope to merge original footage from with new scenes of the women discussing the film to create an educational documentary for professionals and women newly diagnosed as HIV-positive.


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