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Last modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2007

"Hidden communities" receive national attention at HIV/STD conference

April 3, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The charms of small-town living offer challenges, as well, for people with HIV, AIDS and STDs. Adequate support and treatment can be even more difficult to obtain for people in "hidden communities" -- such as injection drug users and nongay-identified men who have sex with men. They often are considered disposable communities by their rural neighbors.

The fear of "patient spotting" and gossip can keep people from seeking treatment for their STDs, said William L. Yarber, senior director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at Indiana University Bloomington. A lack of specialists and public health resources limit treatment options further. People in those hidden communities often face the additional hurdles of fear and judgment from the rural medical community. "Close-knit" becomes a relative term.

William L. Yarber, senior director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention and professor in the Department of Applied Health Science.

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"These hidden communities hide themselves because their behavior is stigmatized. They don't get the kind of support that more open and accepted communities receive. This opens them up to more mental health issues, more depression, more suicide. They don't do as well physically with medications," Yarber said. "With a chronic illness like HIV or AIDS, you don't get the level of support from friends, family even the community."

Hidden communities is the topic of the keynote address and some of the research that will be presented Thursday through Saturday (April 5-7) at RCAP's fifth biennial national conference at IU Bloomington's Indiana Memorial Union. The conference is open to the public and media coverage. To see a schedule, visit

Many of the presentations deal with best practices, Yarber said, as researchers and practitioners help each other do more with less. Prevention specialists in rural areas face isolation and limited resources as they work to promote adequate treatment options and limit the spread of STDs, Yarber said.

Rural areas account for around 7 percent of the nation's AIDS cases.

"People in small towns don't believe it's in their community," Yarber said. "They think they know what people do, and of course, they don't."

Darrell Wheeler, associate professor in the Hunter College School of Social Work in New York, will deliver the keynote address on Saturday, at 12 noon, in the IMU's Tudor Room. His address is titled, "Exploring HIV prevention needs for nongay-identified black and African American men who have sex with men."

RCAP is a joint project of IU, the University of Colorado and the University of Kentucky, and is headquartered at IU. Each project partner looks at issues specific to its part of the country. Registration for the conference costs $25 and can be arranged at the door.

Yarber, who is a professor in the Department of Applied Health Science, can be reached at 812-855-7974 and He also is available for TV interviews via IUB's Enberg Studio. Contact Tracy James, 812-855-0084 and, to arrange a studio interview. For more information about RCAP, visit The Department of Applied Health Science is in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation.