New Special Issue Features SIG Intervention Research Published in the Social Work Practice Journal

Eleni Vlachos
September 22, 2022

Fourteen publications in the Research on Social Work Practice journal from over 30 SIG-affiliated scientists share the latest HIV, intimate partner violence (IPV), gender-based violence (GBV), substance use, and addiction research.

SIG Special Issue

SIG is pleased to announce the initial publications in a new Special Issue published in the Social Work Practice journal. The following articles were just published, but more details about each as well as additional publications are forthcoming. Be sure to follow SIG on Twitter and/or subscribe to our monthly newsletter to receive updates. 

Introduction to the Special Issue by Nabila El-Bassel and Louisa Gilbert

Introduction to the Special Issue

This special issue is co-edited by Professors Nabila El-Bassel and Louisa Gilbert from the Social Intervention Group (SIG) at the Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW).

The special issue commemorates SIG’s 30-year role within CSSW in carrying out a core mission of the Social Work profession to “enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people and empower people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” Through SIG’s guiding principles of “Global Science, Global Health, Global Equity,” SIG produces the intervention and implementation research to accomplish that mission and advance evidence-based solutions to social and public health problems in the U.S. and globally.

Over the years, SIG’s research has prioritized HIV/AIDS, substance use, gender-based violence, and co-occurring morbidities such as Hepatitis C, tuberculosis, mental illness, and trauma. This special issue reports on SIG’s intervention and prevention studies, on the scientific process and methods of designing culturally tailored interventions, and on the use of system-dynamic data-driven approaches in intervention research.

The development and implementation of innovative intervention research is a distinguishing feature of CSSW, one of the earliest professional schools in the world. CSSW offered the first class in social work in 1898, and is currently celebrating its 125th anniversary. CSSW has long been at the forefront of Schools of Social Work in producing evidence-based practices.

This special issue shares 14 papers written by a diverse group of over 25 multidisciplinary SIG researchers and affiliates, and describes different multi-level intervention studies including individual, couples, agency/community, and systems. The phases of intervention development are also covered, from designing pilot studies to conducting efficacy and implementation/effectiveness trials. The papers also address core methodologies of intervention and implementation research.  The studies reported in this  special issue are federally funded, primarily by the National Institute of Drug Abuse.

We are proud this Special Issue embraces the values, ethics, traditions and commitment of our profession by creating solutions driven by science and by the voices of the community. We hope this special issue promotes the production of multidisciplinary intervention and implementation research that meet the needs of participants and communities that we serve and inspires other researchers to use the findings to inform future research.

SIG, as a center with an established research infrastructure within CSSW, has been fortunate to attract multidisciplinary scholars from Social Work and other disciplines committed to not only to evidence-based practices and solutions but to working together with impacted communities to address emerging social and public health problems. We hope this approach of multi-disciplinary centers will be adopted and promoted in other Schools of Social Work in the U.S. and globally.

Special thanks to each of the authors who contributed their time and research, as well as to the editor of the journal Professor Bruce Thyer for believing in SIG’s mission and for inviting us to produce this special issue in the Journal of Social Work Practice.

Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, Co-Founder and Director of SIG, and Dr. Louisa Gilbert, Co-Director of SIG

Couple-Based Behavioral HIV Interventions by the Social Intervention Group: Progress, Gaps, and Future Directions

More from publication author Dr. Nabila El-Bassel

A review paper in this special issue showcases the investment of SIG researchers in advancing HIV couple-based intervention research. SIG conducted a total of nine couple-based intervention studies. Both in the US and globally, couple-based is an effective modality to reduce drug and sexual HIV risk behaviors, increase engagement of couples in HIV and drug treatment, prevention, and care, increase HIV testing, and increase initiation of HIV medication and adherence to HIV treatment.

The couples-based modality offers the following benefits in HIV prevention: 

  • Allows both members of the dyad to recognize their mutual responsibility to protect each other from HIV transmission and encourages them to work together to stay healthy
  • Stresses the relationship’s context (i.e., commitment, love, trust), and its connection to HIV acquisition. supports the promotion of a safe environment to discuss sensitive topics such as sexual concurrency, power imbalances, sexual coercion, pregnancy decision-making and safety, disclosure to each other of extra-dyadic sex partners, a history of STIs, a history of injection drug use, or past experiences in abusive relationships
  • Allow the dyad to learn about and practice important skills together such as communication and problem-solving skills, gender differences (e.g., how men and women discuss sex, the meaning of requesting and/or refusing the use of condoms), gender inequalities in risky practices, and sexual expectations

Intervening on the Intersecting Issues of Intimate Partner Violence, Substance Use, and HIV: A Review of Social Intervention Group's (SIG) Syndemic-Focused Interventions for Women

More from publication author Dr. Louisa Gilbert:

The "SAVA syndemic" describes the co-occurring health issues of substance use, violence, and HIV. When these epidemics are addressed in concert, it can lead to better outcomes. This paper reviews SIG-implemented SAVA syndemic interventions that address intimate partner violence (IPV), HIV, and substance use among women. Of the five SIG interventions reviewed, four showed a significant reduction in risks for two or more outcomes related to IPV, substance use, and HIV. These results indicate the utility of using SAVA syndemic theory-driven interventions to improve multiple health outcomes among different key affected populations of women.  


Leveraging Randomized Controlled Trial Design: HIV and Wellness Interventions with Marginalized Populations

More from publication author Dr. Dawn Goddard-Eckrich:

Wellness interventions can play an important role in treatment guidelines for randomized clinical trials. Developing and implementing this model can be a more ethical, equitable, and holistic approach among underserved communities.

Ending the HIV Epidemic for Persons Left Behind in the Advances of HIV: Intervention Studies Addressing the HIV Continuum of Care

More from publication author Dr. Carrigan L. Parish:

In this manuscript, we highlight some of our U.S.-based social interventions that have addressed the disparities and sub-optimal quality of life encountered by overlooked HIV populations with the goal of achieving timely HIV diagnosis, care, and sustained viral suppression.

Combination Microfinance and HIV Risk Reduction Among Women Engaged in Sex Work

More from publication author Dr. Susan Witte:

This paper summarizes 15 years of intervention science showing what we have learned about combining traditional HIV prevention with microfinance among women engaged in sex work (WESW) in Central Asia. We begin by describing the emergence of risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIS) among WESW in the Central Asia region, specifically Mongolia and Kazakhstan, and bridge to how and why we developed and implemented these prevention intervention studies.

We describe the development of combining HIV prevention with asset-based microfinance interventions, the lessons we learned, and the contributions these studies make to HIV prevention, intervention science, and to social work practice. We end by recommending next steps to move prevention science forward in this area and among this key population, which continues to be underserved in HIV prevention science worldwide. The work showed that there is sometimes more health risk behavior reduction when WESW are able to become economically empowered. This work underscores the importance of economic empowerment as a central component of health and mental health prevention and treatment interventions among marginalized groups of people and communities.

Addressing Treatment Outcomes and Substance Use Among Formerly Incarcerated Individuals Living with HIV

More from publication author Dr. Tawandra Rowell-Cunsolo:

This findings from a pilot test of two interventions designed to improve ART adherence among formerly incarcerated individuals living with HIV suggest that brief or combination interventions can potentially improve treatment outcomes and reduce substance use.

Intervention Adaptation and Implementation Method for Real-World Constraints and Using New Technologies.

More from publication author Dr. Elwin Wu:

The paper describes ways to adapt an HIV behavioral intervention given changing variables and, as the title suggests, “real-world constraints.” The paper has two themes. The first is how can one adapt and update evidence-based interventions with little time, money, and existing research, especially with population or other changes (e.g., PrEP or remote delivery due to COVID)?

The second theme is about technology. The authors developed a visualization tool to help guide this process, “Recommendations for Technology-Enabled/ Facilitated Behavioral Interventions." In addition to traditional adaptation by researchers, this method can be used by clinicians wishing to implement a published/existing intervention and include positionality considerations in the adaptation method.

See and share the Twitter thread.

Implementation of a Dyad-Based Intervention to Improve Antiretroviral Therapy Adherence Among HIV-Positive People Who Inject Drugs in Kazakhstan: A Randomized Trial

More from publication author Dr. Alissa Davis:

HIV-positive people who inject drugs (PWID) in Kazakhstan face many challenges to antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence. Interventions that leverage social support from an intimate partner, family member, or friend may be effective in improving ART adherence among this population. Several implementation strategies were used to facilitate intervention delivery, including remote delivery, training of staff, supervision, technical assistance, quality assurance, and collection of assessments through diverse sources. This trial responds to a need for dyad-based ART adherence interventions adapted specifically for HIV-positive PWID.

Preferences for an HIV Self-Testing Program Among Women who Engage in sex Work and use Drugs in Kazakhstan, Central Asia

More from publication author Olivia Cordingley:

This is the latest paper out of project AEGIDA at SIG. AEGIDA aims to create an intervention to train sex workers in Kazakhstan to use HIV self test kits. This paper describes the preferences for a self-testing program shared by sex workers interviewed early last year. Findings include the need for flexibility in a program, linkage to care, and social and emotional support during and after testing. This research also demonstrates the importance of including key stakeholders (sex workers and NGOs in Kazakhstan) and community members' input when designing an intervention targeted towards them.

Nurses and Outreach Workers’ Stigmatizing Attitudes in Needle Syringe Programs in Kazakhstan

More from publication author Sholpan Primbetova:

Kazakhstan and Central Asia are experiencing the world’s fastest-growing HIV incidence, which is being driven by injection drug use.  Testing among people who inject drugs (PWID) is infrequent, and testing positive does not always lead to linkage to care and treatment. PWID and/or people living with HIV (PLWH), or at high risk for HIV remain a highly stigmatized population in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, needle and syringe programs (NSPs) serve as vital venues for providing harm reduction services and information sharing among PWID, and they are staffed by nurses and outreach workers, the vast majority of whom identify as peers.

Bridge is an HIV care continuum intervention study for PWID that is designed to systematically address service barriers to HIV testing, linkage to HIV care, and ART initiation in NSPs and HIV care clinics in Kazakhstan. As an implementation study, Bridge utilized a stepped wedge design in three regions in Kazakhstan: Almaty, Karaganda/Temirtau, and Shymkent, and was deeply integrated into local governmental (healthcare and HIV care clinics) and non-governmental organizations and was, therefore, built on the capacity, readiness, and willingness of staff to deliver the intervention to PWID.

This paper examines differences in attitudes, stigma, and discrimination towards PLWH in NSPs in Kazakhstan to help inform HIV care interventions in these settings.