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Public Health lecture addresses HIV

By Ben Fechter
On January 25, 2011

  • Dr. Jeffrey Fisher, professor of psychology and founder of the CHIP, speaks about HIV and HIV prevention at Homer Babbidge on Tuesday. Kelly Ganley

The "Today's Public Health" guest lecture series kicked off yesterday with an appearance by Dr. Jeffrey Fisher, a Board of Trustees distinguished professor of psychology on campus and founder of the Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention (CHIP). The lecture took place in the second-floor lecture hall in Babbidge Library at 4 p.m. Fisher's work revolves around the spread of information regarding HIV, which affected 33 million people in 2009.

According to Fisher's data, HIV is most prevalent in southern Africa, where the number of people who died from the disease was 1.3 million in 2009, while the worldwide number of deaths was 1.8 million. After a recent visit to Zimbabwe, Fisher spoke of the chaos that results from the spread of HIV through unsafe sexual behavior. He described the lack of space to bury victims of the disease, saying, "There are graves as far as the eye can see."

But one of the main reasons why HIV prevention has been relatively unsuccessful is because of the strategies that researchers are using. Fisher argued that many HIV prevention interventions "are designed with a one-size-fits-all-dynamic." He explained how scientists are placing heterosexuals, minorities and people of different ages all in the same category. He also said that most interventions are based on theories rather than on hard evidence.

Fisher described three aspects that influence a person's ability to practice safe behavior: motivation, information and behavioral skills. Fisher emphasized that people need to know how HIV is transmitted and how it is prevented. Fisher also spoke of the sensitivity of sexually transmitted diseases and how different people view the subject.

One specific experiment that Fisher referred to was a study done by the University of Connecticut on students, using an undergraduate female as the variable. The study placed the female in a local bar on two separate occasions, once while she was wearing tight, revealing clothes and once while she was wearing less flattering attire. The researchers then asked a number of men in the location what they thought of the woman. More men said that the woman most likely had an STD while she was wearing the "sexy" outfit, while far fewer men said the same thing while she was wearing average clothing.

Ultimately, Jeffrey Fisher stated that people need a change of attitude when it comes to HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

"My mother always asked me if I wanted to take the garbage out. No one wants to take the garbage out. I didn't get it. On the other hand, you have to want to practice safe sex," Fisher said.

CHIP is located on Hillside Road next to the Alumni Residence Hall.


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