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A recent School of Medicine study examined whether an intervention program designed to promote safe sex practices, like condom use, actually worked beyond the world of research.

Penn Med, recently ranked second in U.S. News and World Report’s 2010 ranking for top research medical schools, has consistently been a front-runner of leading medical studies. But Penn Med and Communications professor John Jemmott and Nursing professor Loretta Jemmott, husband and wife, chose to see if an HIV/STD intervention — which they developed in previous studies — actually worked when carried out by community-based organizations.

The study showed that even when the HIV/STD risk-reduction intervention was taught without the assistance of researchers, it was still effective in reducing the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.

According to Loretta Jemmott, the study’s co-author, the researchers selected 96 community-based organizations in New Jersey and Philadelphia. They trained staff members to independently teach a curriculum that the Jemmotts created in 1992, called “Be Proud! Be Responsible!”

The intervention in the 1992 study proved to be one of the first successful safer-sex HIV/AIDS interventions in multiple populations.

Loretta noted that a crucial factor in the intervention’s success was its basis in focus groups conducted in each community, so that the curriculum addressed the specific attitudes and beliefs of youth in each area.

But the Jemmotts didn’t want to stop at creating a successful intervention. “As researchers, we want to do good science — you do the good thing and publish your results, but they sit on the shelves, and the communities never get the results,” Loretta Jemmott said. “We decided to train community-based organizations to do it themselves, and it’s amazing that it still works after we gave it away.”

The Jemmotts have a long history of studying HIV and AIDS as members of the Penn Center for AIDS Research, both throughout the United States and in South Africa.

They recently created an abstinence-only program that also proved successful, as part of their goal to adapt interventions to fit a variety of communities. While “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” is a safer-sex intervention that encourages condom use, an abstinence-only program is better suited to middle school and church communities, according to Loretta Jemmott. “The methods depend on the populations,” she said.

“We’re just glad that our studies are working,” she added. “This study is the first of its kind — a really big deal in showing that our interventions work in the real world as well.”

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