Visitors to EDC’s new High Impact Condom Distribution website will be greeted by an image that makes the mission of the site abundantly clear. It’s a tree, filled with condoms.
And it’s a good metaphor for the public health work that the site is doing, says EDC’s Maya Lagu.
“The act of coordinated condom distribution has to adapt to its circumstances, and it has to be a continually renewing source,” she says. “Effective prevention is much more than just a bowl of condoms.”
Through the new website, EDC is helping to build a community of practice where HIV prevention professionals can gather, share ideas, and plan strong programs that put millions of condoms in the hands of people who need them. It’s a community effort, and it’s all in support of the high impact prevention approach framed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The website debuted at the U.S. Conference on AIDS in New Orleans in September 2013. It builds on EDC’s expertise in creating vibrant online communities and the CDC’s experience of increasing capacity for HIV prevention in communities across the nation.
For communities hardest hit by HIV, condom distribution programs can be an effective way to reach at-risk populations. The premise behind the online community of practice is simple: help businesses, local organizations, and public health agencies that are working to make condoms accessible and plentiful, and preventing the spread of HIV should become easier.
”The CDC is focusing on populations at highest risk for contracting or spreading HIV,” says EDC’s Erin Smith. “Condom distribution is one of the most cost-effective and scalable interventions. But distribution efforts can be uneven, and can sometimes miss underserved areas.”
Technical assistance to community-based organizations (CBOs) has typically been an individual affair. But with a desire to reach a greater number of organizations, the CDC recently decided to move some of this technical assistance online. And the EDC design team found that there was a lot of momentum behind the project.
“During our fact-finding phase, we saw that organizations were already doing some things that they were anxious to share,” says Lagu, the lead instructional designer for the website. “We wanted to give them a forum to do just that.”
One popular tactic? Some CBOs had been branding their own condoms—partly for publicity, but also because it allowed them to tailor messages specifically for the populations they served. Lagu says that organizations that went this route had put a lot of thought into the design, and were very excited to share their results with peer organizations.
Other CBOs have struggled with the issue of even distribution—while some populations were oversaturated, others remained underserved. It was these types of structural issues that the CDC wanted to bring to the online community of practice.
“Our goal is to have a lot of organizations sharing their ideas about how best to distribute condoms,” says Smith. “We also hope to foster a deeper understanding of what structural interventions means for people who are doing this work.”
A comprehensive site
The High Impact Condom Distribution website is divided into two main sections: “Plan” and “Share.”
The Plan section takes organizations step-by-step through the process of planning and implementing a condom distribution program targeted to a specific population. In the Share section, practitioners post questions and thoughts on challenges, innovations, and lessons learned.
Two EDC technical assistance providers moderate the Share section, offering resources and training and technical support to community members. Practitioners discuss everything from where to target populations at highest risk, to the stigma still attached to condom use, to what products to distribute.
“It’s a living, learning community,” says Lagu. “The online format gives communities the tools to plan their programs and the peer support to move toward this work.”
The EDC e-Learning & CBA Center will partner with the CDC to promote the High Impact Condom Distribution online community of practice to CBOs that are engaged in condom distribution. The site requires a short registration and is free to anyone working in state health departments, local organizations, and others who work in the HIV prevention and treatment field.
It’s not as simple as a condom tree. But it is sustainable, and the community continues to grow.
Smith thinks that they are on to something big. “We’re here to help communities create the change necessary for the people at highest risk for HIV to have easy access to the prevention products they want, in the places and spaces they go,” she says.