SIG Awarded Grant to Test Innovative Couple-Based Programs to Prevent HIV…

SIG Awarded Grant to Test Innovative Couple-Based Programs to Prevent HIV and Other Health Concerns Among Black Men Who Have Sex With Men (First Randomized Clinical Trial Testing a Couple-Based Intervention to Strengthen the Well-Being of Black Men in Same-Sex Relationships)


October 27, 2011

Dr. Elwin Wu

New York, NY—Dr. Elwin Wu, Director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG), and Associate Professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW), has received a five-year, $3.1M grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The grant will be used to test the efficacy of couple-based interventions in preventing the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among Black men in longer-term, same-sex relationships. Drs. Nabila El-Bassel and Louisa Gilbert are co-investigators on the study, which will be conducted at the CUSSW Social Intervention Group.

This research will address the overrepresentation of Blacks/African Americans among those living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. as well as men who have sex with men (MSM), the transmission category that accounts for the majority of HIV infections. In New York City, HIV prevalence for African Americans and MSM exceeds many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“MSM is the only major transmission category for which HIV incidence in the U.S. has steadily increased over the past decade. This, plus the longstanding disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic shouldered by the Black/African American community, is a woeful failure of prevention efforts collectively to date,” says Dr. Wu. “This is not just about public health, it is about social justice.”

Dr. Wu’s assertion is underscored by the fact that there are more evidence-based HIV preventive interventions reported in the scientific literature for heterosexuals than MSM. This study, entitled Connect ’n Unite targets Black MSM that are also at the nexus of additional prominent HIV/STI risk factors: (1) stimulant use, which has strong links to HIV risk and transmission, and (2) being in a longer-term [same-sex] relationship, which is estimated to represent two-thirds of HIV transmissions among MSM.

The study will recruit 240 Black MSM couples that have a recent history of stimulant use and engage in high-risk sexual behaviors. These couples will be randomly assigned to receive an HIV risk reduction intervention versus a control condition, consisting of a general health promotion intervention that targets other prominent health concerns among Black men (e.g., diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stress).

The couple-based interventions supplement traditional skills-building activities with content that emphasizes and helps recipients redress the dynamics arising from having multiple/intersecting marginalized statuses. These statuses include social exclusion from the Black and/or LGBT communities (e.g., “down low” vs. “out”), lack of visible positive role models/representations of Black same-sex couples, and feeling blamed for the HIV epidemic—that threaten the well-being of Black MSM and their intimate relationships.

“The HIV retrovirus itself cannot inherently recognize race or sexual orientation. The obvious conclusion is that social and behavioral factors are driving this health disparity,” explains Dr. Wu. “Thus, a sociobehavioral intervention is a likely candidate to redress the health disparities experienced by racial/ethnic and sexual minorities, specifically Black MSM.”

About the Social Intervention Group
SIG is a multidisciplinary research center at the Columbia University School of Social Work that works to develop and test effective prevention and intervention models and disseminate them to local, national, and international communities. SIG’s research addresses the co-occurring problems of HIV, drug abuse, intimate partner violence, and trauma.