Programming Connection

Operation Hairspray 

Ottawa Public Health
Ottawa, Ontario

What is the program?

Operation Hairspray engages and trains employees of hair salons and barber shops who serve African and Caribbean communities in Ottawa to deliver basic HIV information to their customers in a culturally relevant way. By training and supporting these employees to become peer educators, the community’s awareness of HIV is broadened in a casual, non-threatening manner that promotes dialogue about these issues and reduces HIV stigma in communities that have historically been difficult to reach through traditional forms of outreach.

This project has been implemented twice: first in a pilot by Ottawa Public Health and again through a partnership between Ottawa Public Health and Somerset West Community Health Centre. The pilot engaged 19 peer educators at 15 barber and beauty shops. The second phase expanded to include a focus on HIV stigma and discrimination and other types of customer-service-related businesses, including a shop and a grocery store. The volunteers at these businesses were trained to educate their customers in the same way barbers and hairstylists were trained to become peer educators.

Operation Hairspray is overseen by a Project Advisory Group, which includes public health staff, members of the African and Caribbean communities (including a barber, hairdressers and a person living with HIV) and researchers from the University of Ottawa. This group advises Ottawa Public Health on how to approach businesses to engage participation, select educational materials appropriate for the community and effectively evaluate the program.