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ethnography, geographic mapping, HIV, public health



  1. Brawner, Bridgette M.
  2. Reason, Janaiya L.
  3. Goodman, Bridget A.
  4. Schensul, Jean J.
  5. Guthrie, Barbara


Background: Unequal human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) distribution is influenced by certain social and structural contexts that facilitate HIV transmission and concentrate HIV in disease epicenters. Thus, one of the first steps in designing effective community-level HIV/AIDS initiatives is to disentangle the influence of individual, social, and structural factors on HIV risk. Combining ethnographic methodology with geographic information systems mapping can allow for a complex exploration of multilevel factors within communities that facilitate HIV transmission in highly affected areas.


Objectives: We present the formative comparative community-based case study findings of an investigation of individual-, social-, and structural-level factors that contribute to the HIV/AIDS epidemic among Black Philadelphians.


Methods: Communities were defined using census tracts. The methodology included ethnographic and geographic information systems mapping, observation, informal conversations with residents and business owners, and secondary analyses of census tract-level data in four Philadelphia neighborhoods.


Results: Factors such as overcrowding, disadvantage, permeability in community boundaries, and availability and accessibility of health-related resources varied significantly. Furthermore, HIV/AIDS trended with social and structural inequities above and beyond the community's racial composition.


Discussion: This study was a first step to disentangle relationships between community-level factors and potential risk for HIV in an HIV epicenter. The findings also highlight stark sociodemographic differences within and across racial groups and further substantiate the need for comprehensive, community-level HIV prevention interventions. These findings from targeted U.S. urban communities have potential applicability for examining the distribution of HIV/AIDS in broader national and international geosocial contexts.