The Centers for Disease Control recently announced the availability of $76 million in grants for the National HIV Behavioral Surveillance (NHBS) program. This program is designed to "monitor the HIV epidemic" and detect changes in HIV-risk behaviors among high-risk population groups with an eye towards improving HIV prevention measures. This round of grants includes an option, based on availability of funds, to extend the research into two additional groups not under regular surveillance: "young MSM (YMSM) [Young Men having Sex with Men] and transgender women." In this case, "young" is defined as 13-17 years old.
Grant recipients must obtain regulatory approval for all survey activities, including these two lesser studied groups. This includes approval by local Institutional Review Boards (IRB) that oversee the studies. According to the CDC, local IRB members are not affiliated with the CDC. Since CDC staff is not directly involved with research subjects, the local IRBs review/approve protocols for these projects instead of a CDC-led IRB.
Given that those in the YMSM group are minors, parental consent can be an issue. However, the IRBs may approve waivers for parental consent if "necessary for the protection of human subjects," according to the CDC. When asked how disclosures of sexual contact between minors and adults would be handled, the CDC replied that "[i]f a participant ... discloses sexual behavior with a non-minor, the awarded grantee must follow their local laws about reporting regulations."
To obtain the data for the survey, the CDC suggests grantees use "respondent-driven sampling (RDS), Facebook Sampling (FBS) or other CDC-approved strategies to recruit MSM [Young Men having Sex with Men]." Asked what "Facebook Sampling" entails, the CDC explained that this method "entails placing banner ads on Facebook visible only to potentially eligible participants. Clicking on the ads will take the respondent to a landing page that displays additional information about [survey] and invites them to participate if eligible." The CDC went on to say that "other CDC-approved strategies include recruiting participants from venues in which YMSM congregate (e.g. venue-based sampling)."
A CDC spokesperson justified this research, even among teen-agers as young as thirteen, saying:
[G]ay and bisexual men of all races continue to be the risk group most severely affected by HIV. According to the most recent national data, between 2008 and 2010, the number of new infections among men who have sex with men (MSM) increased 12 percent, and infections among the youngest MSM – those aged 13 to 24 increased 22 percent. CDC's National HIV Behavioral Surveillance System (NHBS), provides important behavioral context for trends seen in HIV surveillance data. Using these data on HIV testing, prevalence, risk behaviors, and access to prevention services among at-risk populations in U.S. cities with the highest HIV prevalence, we can better target our nation’s HIV prevention efforts.
Grantees must submit applications by August 3, 2015 to be eligible for consideration for a grant. The projected award date is January 1, 2016.