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Social Networks May Help Slow Spread of HIV

April 28, 2013

The Medical College of Wisconsin’s (MCW) Center for AIDS Intervention Research (CAIR) has received a five-year, $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Mental Health to engage social networks of persons living with HIV in the former Soviet Union to support other people who are HIV positive.

The grant’s dual principal investigators are Yuri A. Amirkhanian, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and director of the CAIR International Research Core; and Jeffrey Kelly, Ph.D., senior vice chair and professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine and director of CAIR.

Cases of HIV in countries in the former Soviet Union have risen more quickly than nearly any other place in the world, increasing from a few thousand cases in the 1990’s to millions of current infections. Highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to suppress viral load is considered both a treatment and a vehicle for primary prevention. However, the number of people in Eastern Europe accessing medical treatment for HIV/AIDS is very low.

In this research project, investigators will first conduct research in St. Petersburg, Russia, to inform the main intervention trial. Next, the researchers will recruit social networks of persons living with HIV in two groups, an intervention group and a comparison group. The intervention group leaders will attend sessions to provide training and guidance to strengthen the network supports for entering and adhering to care and reducing transmission risk behavior. Ultimately, the study will identify a new strategy (social intervention networks) to try to reduce the spread and risk of HIV.

The Center for AIDS Intervention Research at MCW is one of five HIV prevention research centers in the United States funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. CAIR’s missions are to conceptualize, conduct, and scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of new intervention strategies to prevent HIV infection in populations vulnerable to the disease. CAIR’s research also develops improved strategies to promote health and alleviate adverse mental health consequences among persons living with HIV. CAIR is committed to disseminating its findings both to the scientific community and to public health providers so they benefit from Center research.

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