A JEWEL of a Project Helps Reduce HIV Risk

Johns Hopkins professor of epidemiology Susan Sherman recently developed a study that uses jewelry making to help educate and improve the lives of individuals at risk for HIV.

JEWEL, Jewelry Education for Women Empowering Their Lives, pays women for six sessions, each including an hour of workshops on HIV and sexual-risk prevention and an hour of beaded jewelry instruction. In addition, participants are able to attend a nonpaid jewelry-making class each week. The program concludes with marketing tips and a sale of the women’s pieces.

The pilot study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the State of Maryland, was exciting both for Sherman and her participants, many of whom became invested in the craft. “People came even on [the extra day] when they weren’t getting paid,” Sherman notes. Roslyn Leahy, dubbed the study’s “poster child” by Sherman, sold over $1,200 of jewelry and was motivated to start up Gems of Hope, a related program that works with at-risk women and jewelry making.

A follow-up survey confirmed that JEWEL had positive behavioral effects on the women. Participants cited a roughly one-third decrease in drug-related prostitution and sex-trade partners. Several of the study’s features may explain these results. For one, Sherman notes, prostitution is conducted for financial gain, for which jewelry sales can provide an alternative. The program also decreases the women’s sense of loneliness and increases their sense of self worth, all of which can help dissuade them from involvement in risky behaviors. Sherman hopes to expand upon this groundbreaking study in the future. For information on donations of jewelry materials to Gems of Hope, please contact Sherman at ssherman@jhsph.edu.