Ssewamala to use NIH grant on HIV interventions in stricken Africa

Fred Ssewamala, professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, has received a $3.4 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study the effectiveness of interventions in Uganda aimed at protecting adolescent girls against known HIV risk factors.

“The highest number of people living with HIV/AIDS (24.7 million) is in sub-Saharan Africa, with Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda accounting for 48 percent of new infections,” said Ssewamala, who is in his first year at the Brown School after spending 15 years as a professor at Columbia University in New York.

Ssewamala

“In Uganda, the country focus for the new study, the HIV prevalence among 15-49 year olds is 7.2 percent, with the Rakai (9.3 percent) and Masaka (12 percent) districts — our target districts — standing above the national average,” he said.

The five-year study will examine the impact and cost associated with “Suubi (Hope) For Girls,” an innovative intervention that aims to prevent HIV risk behaviors among 15-to 17-year-old girls living in communities heavily affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS in Uganda.

The program comprises two main components: a youth monetary saving program that supports secondary education for girls, and a family-based dialogue and training that strengthens family relationships to address mental health challenges which frequently accompany adolescent girls’ transition to adulthood.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 71 percent of people living with HIV worldwide, with girls accounting for seven of 10 new infections among 15- to 19-year-olds,” Ssewamala said. “Uganda has demonstrated rising HIV prevalence among youth, which is likely related to increases in HIV risk behaviors.”

“With this grant, Dr. Ssewamala continues to address the pressing economic and health needs of children and families in Africa,” said Mary McKay, the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School. “The impact of this study will ensure that the well-being of young girls in Uganda is supported into adulthood.”

Ssewamala has spent years designing economic empowerment interventions that address health, mental health and educational outcomes for children and adolescents, particularly those impacted by HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

At Columbia, he established the Center for Child Health and Development. Now based at the Brown School, the center contributes to the reduction of poverty and improvement of health outcomes for African children and adolescents.

Originally published in The Source.