Peer-based HIV Self-Testing among High-Risk Women Who Inject Drugs in Kazakhstan Central Asia

Dr. Victoria Frye, Medical Professor in the Department of Community Health and Social Medicine at the CUNY School of Medicine (CUNY SoM), is completing the final year of a three-year research project (#1R34DA049664) funded by a $727,874 grant from the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA). The project is entitled Peer-based HIV Self-Testing among High-Risk Women Who Inject Drugs in Kazakhstan Central Asia. The project is in response to the identified need in HIV prevention research for rigorous development and testing of interventions to increase HIV case finding and linkage to care, particularly those leveraging self-testing approaches, addressing intersectional stigma as a barrier, and focusing on women who exchange sex for needed resources and/or inject drugs. “The findings from this study will have important HIV prevention and public health implications for Central Asia and other countries where the HIV epidemic is growing, and where sex exchange and injection drug use are key epidemic drivers,” says Dr. Frye, who also heads the Laboratory of Urban Community Health at CUNY SoM. “Lessons learned from this study can guide similar research in the U.S. among vulnerable cisgender and transgender women.”

During her career, Dr. Frye has focused on the design and testing of HIV prevention interventions among populations made vulnerable to HIV by systems of oppression, including women who use drugs and gay men of color. Dr. Frye serves as co-Principal Investigator with Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, a University Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work. Dr. Frye also just received a new Fogarty International Center R01 award (#1R01TW012405) entitled Reducing Intersectional and HIV Stigma among High Risk Women who use Drugs in Kazakhstan, Central Asia: A Multilevel Stigma Resistance and Enacted Stigma Reduction Intervention for Women and Providers, this time in partnership with Dr. Brooke West also of the Columbia University School of Social Work, to design and evaluate an innovative, multilevel, community-engaged, anti-intersectional stigma intervention focusing on both women who exchange sex and use drugs and health care providers and clinics and to DWES, using evidence-based and informed approaches, including crowdsourcing of an anti-stigma multimedia messaging campaign aimed at clinic staff and adaptation of a care provider training for optimal sexual health care for women who exchange sex and use drugs. The abstract of this new project is described below.

Project Abstract:

Suboptimal linkage to and retention in HIV prevention and care is prevalent among high risk women who use or inject drugs in both the US and globally, stemming, in part, from high levels of stigma. In Kazakhstan, increasing engagement in the HIV care and prevention continuum is a major public health goal, as the number of new HIV infections doubled from 2010 to 2017 and AIDS-related deaths increased by 32%. Among high risk women who use drugs in this context, our research has found that ~30% are HIV-infected and that they are less likely to test and receive care. Numerous studies have documented that experienced, anticipated and internalized stigma, especially from health care providers (HCP), are key barriers to HIV testing and treatment in global contexts. For high risk women who use drugs, HIV and associated stigmas, specifically stigma related to sex and drug use, as well as gender discrimination, work independently and synergistically to inhibit access to HIV prevention and treatment; yet, there are no existing anti-stigma interventions designed and tested in Kazakhstan for this key population of women and that focus on HCP as sources of stigma. Here we propose to design and assess acceptability, feasibility, and generate information in order to power a preliminary effectiveness trial of a three component, multi-level participatory intervention to reduce HIV-associated and intersectional stigma – and thus increase access to HIV prevention and care. The first component is aimed at high risk women and designed to increase stigma resistance/coping and reduce anticipated/internalized stigma via: a) crowdsourcing of anti-stigma messaging for HCP; and b) adaptation of a HCP training for optimal sexual health and healthcare engagement among high risk women who used drugs. The second and third components, aimed at the HCP and other clinic staff and emerging from the execution of the first component, include: a) the resultant messaging campaign; and b) the training that will be delivered to HCP. Both the messaging campaign and the training components will be designed to reduce enacted stigma by HCP/staff (and thus experienced stigma among women) and increase stigma resistance and resilience among high risk women who use drugs. All components will work synergistically to reduce enacted, experienced and internalized, intersectional stigma. The approach relies on evidence-based methods, including media campaigns, to reduce HCP enacted stigma, and integrates innovative methods, like crowdsourcing and participatory research, to increase stigma resistance. Results of this study will be unique in utilizing multilevel anti-stigma approaches for both high risk women who use drugs and HCP and have important implications for advancing HIV prevention and care engagement among highly stigmatized populations globally and in the US.

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