In response to HIV infection rates quickly climbing in youth around the globe, MPH student Jason Parad founded The Condom Pledge, a social marketing campaign to normalize condom use in young populations. Since its launch in March 2013, the campaign has partnered with more than a dozen international youth groups and garnered more than 25,000 supporters from 60 countries. Its logo–a right hand with concentric circles as the palm–has also become a global symbol for HIV prevention, inspiring the logos of other organizations such as the Immunity Project. The Society for Public Health Education will also honor Jason’s work at its annual meeting in Baltimore on March 20th with the Vivian Drenckhahn Scholarship Award. To help us better understand the background and success of this campaign, Jason answered the questions below.
How did you come up with the idea for The Condom Pledge?
Attending college in New Haven and graduate school in Philadelphia, I had been keenly aware of the growing HIV epidemic and the public health efforts leveraged in response. To promote condom use in particular, these efforts typically focused on increasing either sex education in schools or condom access in communities. However, it wasn’t until traveling throughout Asia when I realized that inadequate school education and community access were only parts of the problem. Far more important it seemed were the societal norms, which widely proscribed the use and, in some cases, discussion of condoms. Fortunately, in the midst of this realization, I was studying theories of health behavior change under leading experts in the field, Drs. Karen Glanz and Rosemary Frasso, who helped me to understand the problem from a social ecological perspective and develop a boldly simple intervention to normalize condoms on a global scale.
What are theories of health behavior change and how did you use them?
Within the past several decades, social scientists have sought to understand how to facilitate health behaviors such as condom use by crafting hundreds of different models. Among these, I identified three that were highly regarded and mutually compatible, namely, interorganizational relations theory (IOR), the transtheoretical model (TTM), and social cognitive theory (SCT). While the interplay among these theories is complex, I chiefly focused on the constructs of “promotional networking” from IOR, “behavioral contracting” from TTM, and “social role modeling” from SCT. The idea was that youth from various networks could first engage in a behavioral contract called “The Condom Pledge” and then publicize it–as a way to not only increase individual adherence to the contract but also empower other youth to follow suit.
Can you give an example of your collaboration with youth organizations?
While youth organizations around the world have done fantastic work promoting awareness for HIV, many have been without a tool to channel their broad advocacy into a specific intervention. Hoping to fill that void and contribute to a concerted prevention effort, we have set up partnerships thus far with 15 international groups. To give an example, Step Up 2 HIV is a nationally renowned HIV prevention project in Zimbabwe that engages youth through community dance performances. Working with its director, we helped to introduce into these performances our collaborative tagline “I Stepped Up 2 HIV by taking The Condom Pledge,” thereby allowing youth to take a concrete step toward an AIDS-free generation. Other work, for instance, has focused on training health educators with the Youth Association for Cambodia and developing a school-based campaign with the Vietnam Youth Network for HIV Prevention.
What has been the best part about working on The Condom Pledge?
To implement an international volunteer effort like The Condom Pledge requires, of course, a great deal of coordinated enthusiasm and cultural understanding. Fortunately, the outpouring of support from youth advocates and health professionals around the world has been truly phenomenal in making this campaign a reality. One particularly inspirational example was our World AIDS Day event in the Muslim country of Sierra Leone. After campaigning throughout its 14 districts and capital city, we assembled a band of young leaders to stage a brilliant march throughout Bo, a district capital with staggering rates of HIV. Shortly thereafter, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation gave a nod of approval by supplying us with condoms for all of our upcoming campaigns in the country.
What is your vision for the future of The Condom Pledge?
My vision for the campaign in the coming years is to promote The Condom Pledge as a novel approach to HIV prevention. Surprisingly, while abstinence pledges have long been studied as a potentially viable public health solution, the idea of a condom pledge has yet to appear in any academic journal. Also, similar to international youth advocacy groups, national HIV/STD Control Programs remain without a behavioral change tool to conveniently promote condoms. This year I have thus started to tackle these issues in my MPH Capstone project. By surveying directors of CDC-funded HIV/STD Control Programs, I hope to elucidate the national landscape of condom promotion, assess the integrative feasibility of The Condom Pledge, and publish my results to begin an important conversation in public health.
How can we follow the progress of The Condom Pledge?
You can visit our website at www.thecondompledge.org to learn more about our latest initiatives. For instance, we are currently mailing three condoms to youth in any country who send us their pictures taking The Condom Pledge. You can also check out the most recent campaign photographs on our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thecondompledge. Thank you once again for the opportunity to share this work, and I look forward to the CPHI community joining us online!