Laying the Foundation for Connect to Protect®: A Multi-Site Community Mobilization Intervention to Reduce HIV/AIDS Incidence and Prevalence among Urban Youth
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Despite the considerable resources that have been dedicated to HIV prevention interventions and services over the past decade, HIV incidence among young people in the United States remains alarmingly high. One reason is that the majority of prevention efforts continue to focus solely on modifying individual behavior, even though public health research strongly suggests that changes to a community's structural elements, such as their programs, practices, and laws or policies, may result in more effective and sustainable outcomes. Connect to Protect is a multi-city community mobilization intervention that focuses on altering or creating community structural elements in ways that will ultimately reduce youth HIV incidence and prevalence. The project, which spans 6 years, is sponsored by the Adolescent Medicine Trials Network for HIV/AIDS Interventions at multiple urban clinical research sites. This paper provides an overview of the study's three phases and describes key factors in setting a firm foundation for the initiation and execution of this type of undertaking. Connect to Protect's community mobilization approach to achieving structural change represents a relatively new and broad direction in HIV prevention research. To optimize opportunities for its success, time and resources must be initially placed into laying the groundwork. This includes activities such as building a strong overarching study infrastructure to ensure protocol tasks can be met across sites; tapping into local site and community expertise and knowledge; forming collaborative relationships between sites and community organizations and members; and fostering community input on and support for changes at a structural level. Failing to take steps such as these may lead to insurmountable implementation problems for an intervention of this kind.