November 12, 2007

Case Western Reserve faculty member, alumnus receive NIH funds to establish Center for Social Science Research on HIV in Uganda

The university will work with Makerere University in Kampala on a five-year, $2 million grant


Even if the HIV epidemic in Uganda ended today, the impact on the lives of the nearly one million people living there with the disease, and their families, would be felt for years to come. That is why there is a critical need to train social scientists to address the current and future effects of HIV, according to anthropologist Janet McGrath from the Case Western Reserve University College of Arts and Sciences.

McGrath and Charles Rwabukwali (GRS '93 and '97, anthropology), associate professor of sociology at the Makerere University in Kampala, are co-investigators on a new five-year, $2-million grant from the National Institutes of Health's Global Partnerships for Social Science Research on AIDS. They will initiate a program to strengthen social science research on AIDS in Uganda.

Funds from the grant will establish a new center at Makerere University in Kampala called the Center for Social Science Research on AIDS (CeSSRA) that integrates training and research related to HIV/AIDS. CeSSRA will be directed by McGrath and Rwabukwali. David Kaawa-Mafigiri (GRS '03, '07, anthropology) will be the associate director, and Meg Winchester, a doctoral student in anthropology at Case Western Reserve, will be the program coordinator.

The CeSSRA is a collaborative effort between the departments of anthropology, epidemiology and biostatistics and bioethics at Case Western Reserve and social and medical researchers at Makerere University, the Joint Clinical Research Centre (JCRC) in Kampala and colleagues, including Francis Bajunirwe (GRS '01, epidemiology and biostatistics), at Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Mbarara, Uganda.

"In Uganda, there are many HIV projects, and most of those projects have social scientists. We would like to bring those people together into one group that is a critical mass conducting social science research on HIV," said McGrath, who has been working with the Case Western Reserve University-Uganda Research Collaboration since 1988.

CeSSRA will offer educational programs in the form of mentoring, videoconferencing and traditional workshops and classes to social scientists currently doing HIV work who need additional training as well as those workers who have no training and could use more skills to advance their work.

The CeSSRA-trained social scientists then will have opportunities to use their new skills and strategies during field experiences on the research project, "A Longitudinal Study of the Social Context of HIV Treatment Seeking in Urban and Rural Uganda during the Era of Increased Availability of ART (Antiretroviral Therapy)."

This longitudinal study will expand upon a study that McGrath and Kaawa-Mafigiri conducted on the experiences of 101 women being treated at the JCRC, a Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS treatment in Kampala. That study, funded through the Case Western Reserve/University Hospitals Center for AIDS Research, found that many women were hospitalized for a variety of health concerns that related to HIV before seeking treatment for HIV. After receiving antiretroviral medications (ARVs) late in their illnesses, McGrath said the women reported remarkable changes in that the therapies allowed them to lead normal lives.

The researchers will study the illness experiences and health-seeking decisions of 800 men and women; 400 from each site in urban and rural areas of Kampala and Mbarara, respectively. The study participants will be interviewed by the CeSSRA's new trainees at six months and one and two years to track changes in the patients' lives. Another subgroup of participants will be interviewed for their treatment experiences and adherence to medications and will be observed in their daily activities in an effort to understand the impact of HIV on these individuals' lives.

Another activity of the CeSSRA is to convene a videoconference of the institutional review boards at Case Western Reserve and in Uganda with the goal of initiating an "international conversation on how the process can run more smoothly," according to McGrath. Currently, researchers must seek approval from multiple bodies, each with different procedures and deadlines.

"We want to make it work better for everyone. This means retaining the protections that we need for participants while still being able to undertake our work," McGrath said.

The long-term goal of the new research project is to develop a cadre of well-trained social science researchers who can pursue work within the social sciences and work together with their medical and clinical colleagues to combat HIV/AIDS, said McGrath.

"We are at a time in the HIV epidemic that the complexities of preventing, treating and living with the infection require a truly interdisciplinary effort. The social sciences core that CeSSRA builds is one part that can move the collaboration between medicine and the social sciences forward," McGrath said.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, November 12, 2007 04:33 PM | News Topics: Alumni, Awards, Collaborations/Partnerships, Community Outreach, Faculty, Grants, HeadlinesMain, Provost Initiatives, Public Policy/Politics, Research, School of Medicine, Science, international

Case Western Reserve University is committed to the free exchange of ideas, reasoned debate and intellectual dialogue. Speakers and scholars with a diversity of opinions and perspectives are invited to the campus to provide the community with important points of view, some of which may be deemed controversial. The views and opinions of those invited to speak on the campus do not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration or any other segment of the university community.