Community health outreach workers and AIDS intervention : an ethnographic analysis



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This paper describes the process by which outreach workers deliver various preventive health care services to individuals at risk for AIDS. Although indigenous health workers have previously been used in public health programs, the current federally funded initiative is unique because of its national scope and the complex epidemiology of its targeted disease. This initial effort to conceptualize sociologically the role of the outreach worker will focus on the actual delivery of services to clients in concrete, interventionist settings. Data for this study were derived from two sources: participant observation of encounters between outreach workers and their clients (i.e., intravenous drug users and their sexual partners) (N=168); and structured group and individual interviews with outreach workers (N=13). The quality of this large data base was enhanced by the use of Ethnograph, a computerized ethnographic data management system. This study investigates the following specific aspects of outreach: practical knowledge used to locate, identify, and approach clients; strategies for initiating encounters with clients; variations in styles of self-presentation and communication between outreach workers and clients; and strategies used to terminate interaction with clients. This study concludes by drawing analytical comparisions between outreach workers and community health workers, street police officers, social workers and licensed health workers.



Community health aides, AIDS (Disease)--Prevention