January 28, 2016Dr. Pamela Payne-Foster, deputy director of the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research, will work with an AIDS prevention group to pilot an innovative HIV/AIDS research project in Lowndes County, Ala. The work is being funded with a $25,000 grant awarded to the AIDS Coalition of Alabama Project (ACAP) by the Elton John Foundation in New York City. The project, “Working to Improve Sexual Education (Project WISE),” will focus on youths between the ages of 13 to 24 and, using a community-based approach, work to reduce the incidence rate of HIV/AIDS in the county. In its efforts, Project WISE will engage youth groups, parents, school officials and community leaders, and a community advisory board will be established to provide guidance to participants. During three of the past five years, Lowndes County had the highest incidence rate of HIV/AIDS in Alabama. The impoverished, rural county in Alabama’s Black Belt region has a population of 11,299, with 74 percent African American and nearly a third living below the poverty line with a median income of $23,050, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics. “We are targeting a population that is vastly underserved in addressing and preventing HIV/AIDS,” says Payne-Foster, also an associate professor in the College’s Department of Community and Rural Medicine. Serving as principal investigators for Project WISE are Foster and Mel Prince, executive director of Selma Air in Selma, Ala., an AIDS services organization that serves rural African-American populations. ACAP is a coalition of organizations and individuals who work to decrease and prevent HIV/AIDS in African Americans in Alabama. ACAP partners include: Selma Air; AframSouth Inc. in Montgomery; Alabama State University Center for Leadership and Public Policy in Montgomery; Aletheia House in Birmingham; Central Alabama AIDS Resource and Advocacy Center in Wetumpka; and Community Faith Partners in Huntsville.