The health care community does its fair share of studies looking at different issues involving wellness and gay men. Rarer are wellness studies that take gay male couples into consideration.
Those heading up a new venture – “Project 2gether” – say the couple focus makes a lot of practical sense.
“Too often, conversations revolving around health and wellness are focused on the individual, which fails to offer a complete picture for those who currently have any type of relationship, especially with regards to health concerns affecting gay men,” said Joshua J. Caraballo, a research and evaluation coordinator at Latinos Salud in Wilton Manors.
Caraballo said the point of Project 2gether is to try to address that gap, and assist health care organizations to ultimately improve health and relationship programs for gay couples.
Latinos Salud was chosen to be a part of the project by Dr. Jason Mitchell of the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in Honolulu. Mitchell is the principal investigator who designed the study. He invited more than a dozen people from his school, Latinos Salud, Nova Southeastern University and Medical University of South Carolina to be involved in Project 2gether. The study is being funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“Relationship partners play a powerful role in our lives,” Mitchell said. “Public health programs need to recognize these roles and incorporate this into future programs.”
Mitchell said the project was designed to follow same-sex male couples for six months. It will help researchers better understand how their relationships may or may not change over time, as well as how the use of alcohol, marijuana and other substances may affect – positively and negatively – their relationships and behaviors associated with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and STIs (sexually transmitted infections).
He said to date, there are few evidence-based health promotion and prevention programs that exist for gay male couples.
“Couples who choose to participate will help us understand what is working well for them and their health, and what areas in which future programs could help assist,” Mitchell said. “In recognition that no two couples are alike, it is important for couples in the Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas to consider participating to help us recognize their strengths, unique needs, and frankly, to have their voice be heard, recognized and contribute to the science that goes into creating programs for them.”
Part of the reason Latinos Salud was tapped to help out is its reputation as a community-based organization and its strong ties to the Latino and other gay populations in South Florida.
“We feel that it is very important to be a part of the scientific process, which directly affects the HIV and STD [sexually transmitted disease] interventions being developed by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] and health departments all over the nation,” Caraballo said. “Helping researchers engage with populations of interest, such as gay Latinos and others disproportionately affected by HIV and STDs, to profoundly improve health outcomes, fits Latinos Salud’s mission.”
How to be involved
The first step for any gay couple interested in being a part of the study is to go to the project’s website: project2gether.org.
Once eligibility is determined, both partners will be asked to attend three appointments to complete an in-person survey over the six-month period. During the appointments, you may also be asked to be tested for HIV and provide a hair sample.
The appointments take place at one of two Latinos Salud locations, either in Wilton Manors or Miami Beach.
Each participant will receive $50 at the end of each appointment. (A total of $150 after full participation.)
Organizers stress that responses are confidential and stored in a password-protected, secure web server. Results from any tests will not be shared with anyone outside of the study or to partners, they said. In addition, responses and data cannot be shared with employers, federal agencies, law enforcement or court subpoenas.
“If you'd like to be a part of a unique and exciting scientific study, and want to assist with making health care better for gay couples, we urge you to check and see if you and your partner are eligible to participate,” Caraballo said.