For Immediate Release

October 20, 2009

Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and Director of the Global Health Research Center in Central Asia (GHRCCA), has received a $2.4 million, four-year grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to examine migration patterns, local conditions and HIV risks among migrant market vendors in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Dr. El-Bassel along with Dr. Louisa Gilbert, Dr. Assel Terlikbayeva and Dr. Elwin Wu from GHRCCA will collaborate with Dr. Peter Bearman, and Dr. Chris Beyrer from Johns Hopkins University and a number of researchers from Kazakhstan

The study, titled Silk Road Health Project, is the first longitudinal population-based study in Central Asia that is designed to examine the influence of migration patterns and local conditions on behaviors that place male migrant market vendors at risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Increasing job opportunities and economic expansion has led Kazakhstan to become a major immigration magnet for workers from other Central Asian countries. Limited opportunities in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have continued to push those seeking employment into Kazakhstan and Russia. More recently, Kazakhstan has experienced an increase in migrant workers from other neighboring countries such as China, Turkey and Afghanistan. This study will include male migrant workers from rural areas of Kazakhstan who have come to Almaty for work, as well as male migrant workers from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, China, Turkey, and Afghanistan.

A total of 2,000 male migrant market vendors will be recruited to participate in the study from the Barakholka Market in Almaty, Kazakhstan, one of the biggest trading centers in Central Asia. The Silk Road Health Project will examine individual, interpersonal, community, social and macro-cultural-level risk and protective factors that influence risk behaviors for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The study will also have a qualitative phase in which in-depth interviews will be conducted with 60 male migrant workers to examine the social, cultural and gender meanings that may explain engagement in HIV risks.

According to the World Health Organization, Central Asia is experiencing one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world, with an annual doubling of infection rates since 2000. Over 37% of the new cases of HIV in Central Asia in 2006 were attributed to sexual transmission, and young migrant men have been specifically identified as a key population at risk.

Dr. El-Bassel stated, “Vulnerability to HIV may also be exacerbated by the conditions under which migrants workers live, including poverty, social and economic marginalization, limited access to health services, and isolation from mainstream society. The Silk Road Health Project will examine each of these issues and how migration patterns and local conditions affect risks of HIV/STI transmission. Results from this study will be critical to informing culturally congruent policies and prevention strategies to stem the spread of HIV/STIs among migrant workers in the Central Asian region.”

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