WEDNESDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Could the prevention of HIV infection and AIDS be a comb, fluff and blow-dry away?
That's the idea behind an innovative new national outreach effort, Hairdressers Against AIDS, which got its launch Tuesday at the United Nations in New York City, ahead of Dec. 1, World AIDS Day.
The initiative -- described as "one of the largest HIV/AIDS mobilization campaigns in U.S. history" -- has hair care giant L'Oreal joining forces with nonprofits such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria (GBC).
The goal is to empower America's 500,000-plus hair stylists to use the relationships they have with millions of clients for salon-based chats on the how, why and what of HIV.
"Today there is no vaccine," noted GBC president and CEO John Tedstrom, speaking to 500 hairdressers who'd gathered at the UN for the launch. "There is no cure. We're getting there. But today there is only information. The more we talk, the more we educate, the more we prevent the spread of this epidemic," Tedstrom explained.
"You'll see millions of people hearing about HIV from people that they know," he said. "They'll be hearing effective time-tested messages about HIV prevention, and they'll be able to take those messages back to their personal relationships. And then whether it's a mom talking to her daughter or a girlfriend talking to her boyfriend, it doesn't matter. We'll be able to have an adult conversation about HIV and sexual health."
Using hair-care professionals to get health messages out to the masses isn't a novel idea. Recent studies have shown, for example, that black men can be motivated by barbershop messages to improve their blood pressure or get educated about their risk for prostate cancer. And the U.S. launch of Hairdressers Against AIDS is just the latest extension of a global HIV awareness effort that's already in place in 30 countries throughout the world.
Hairdressers Against AIDS will first offer in-depth HIV/AIDS background training to 1,200 "salon educators," relying on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as their prime source for HIV/AIDS information and prevention advice. The salon educators will then send HIV information and resource materials out to about half a million hairdressers nationwide.
Christine Schuster, L'Oreal vice president of education and campaign chair, called the effort an "advocacy program" that will capitalize on salons' key role in communities to help dispel myths, such as the idea that HIV is no longer a significant health threat or that AIDS is now curable.
In fact, the campaign notes that 1.1 million Americans are still living with HIV and every 9.5 minutes another American becomes infected. About one-fifth of those infected are thought to be unaware of their status.
"We want to get the conversation started," Schuster said, noting that the nation's half-million hairdressers come into contact with an average of 20 million clients per week. "There's no better place to have a conversation than in your local salon."
Within its first year, the U.S. campaign hopes to reach upwards of 110 million American salon-goers, one haircut at a time.
Outreach started in earnest on Wednesday, with all 500 stylists who attended the UN launch headed to Times Square with video cameras to shoot grassroots HIV prevention videos. The finished products will be posted on the campaign's Web site, as well as on other social media forums such as Facebook, to jumpstart the education process.
"Education is key," said Johnny Wright, a celebrity hair stylist involved in the project who counts First Lady Michelle Obama as one of his clients. "As hair stylists we have a vital voice to help educate. So that means talking about using a condom, getting tested, knowing your partner's status, knowing your own status, knowing about the celibacy option if that's appropriate for you. All that needs to be talked about. And I find it can be very easy for us as hairdressers to communicate all this to our clients."
GBC's Tedstrom seconded that notion, calling Hairdressers Against AIDS "a tremendous opportunity to make a big difference."
SOURCES: John Tedstrom, president/CEO, Global Business Coalition; Christine Schuster, chair, Hairdressers Against AIDS USA, and L'Oreal senior vice president; Johnny Wright, hair stylist, and artistic style director, "SoftSheen-Carson" products, L'Oreal; Hairdressers Against AIDS Press Conference, United Nations, Nov. 30, 2010
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