Health Initiative Uses Innovative Approach

Norfolk State University has launched a new and innovative initiative titled “Achieving Sustainable Health Empowerment III: A Comprehensive Health and Wellness Initiative at NSU” (A.S.H.E. III). The initiative, which is geared towards women’s health on campus and in the community, has three primary components: the promotion of overall health; HIV/AIDS education, including prevention; and ending violence against women. This program is the first multi-tiered, multi-agency health and wellness program designed for a campus setting. This unique approach may serve as a model for other Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country.

African-Americans are disproportionately affected by health risks compared to all other minority groups in the United States. A lack of health care plays a pivotal role in the overall wellness of African-American females. They are less likely to seek medical care; subsequently, it is often too late when they do. A.S.H.E. III, which is funded by a $300,000 national grant, recognizes the need to address the disparity in health care particularly among African-American women.

The cornerstone of the three-year project focuses on HIV/AIDS education and prevention. In Virginia, 77 percent of all new HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed are among women and 77 percent of all women living with HIV/AIDS in the Commonwealth are African-American. In addition, Virginia Health Department statistics show 71 percent of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the Eastern Region are black, and 47 percent of females with HIV/AIDS were infected after heterosexual contact. That compares to 11 percent for males.

Violence against females raises the risk of HIV/AIDS infection exponentially. A Campus-Community Women’s Health Taskforce has been established at Norfolk State University which serves as the umbrella organization for the A.S.H.E. III initiative. A sub-task force, aimed at ending violence against women, is working with NSU’s existing Sexual Assault Response team on education and activities to raise awareness.

A second sub-task force is tackling HIV/AIDS/STD issues. Student members are trained as Health Ambassadors by a

core team of educators, led by Sheila Ward, Ph.D., MPH, a professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science. The core team includes local, state, regional and national health and wellness professionals. “The intent of this Comprehensive Health and Wellness Initiative is to empower females on campus to make healthy choices and practice healthy behaviors. Developing these skills now will enable them to practice healthy behaviors throughout their lifespan and model and promote these healthy behaviors to their families,” said Ward.

The student Health Ambassadors plan and facilitate workshops in the residence halls to educate young women about how gender and culture impact achieving overall wellness. Although the small peer-facilitated workshops target freshmen, the health initiative is reaching out to women in the community as well. A host of activities are in the planning stages for on- and off-campus. These programs will educate all women about health risks. Additionally, women will learn how to ask their doctors questions, what diagnostic tests they should have performed, how to overcome unhealthy habits, and to promote healthy lifestyle behaviors.

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