For Immediate Release

July 25, 2008

New York, NY – 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 $3.5 million, five-year grant from the National Institute of Drug Abuse.  Dr. El-Bassel and her research team Louisa Gilbert, Susan Witte, Dr. Anne Brisson, and Dr. Elwin Wu will collaborate with Dr. Chris Beyrer from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, GHRCCA researchers and experts from Kazakhstan including Drs. Assel Terlikbayeva, Baurzhan Zhussupov from the Centers of Disease Control, and Dr. Gulnara Askarova from the Republican Skin and Venereal Disease Institute to conduct an innovative couples-based HIV/STI study in Central Asia.

According to a recent WHO report, Central Asia is experiencing one of the fastest growing HIV epidemics in the world, primarily driven by injecting drug use (IDU), with infection rates in some regions rising by more than 50% since 2004.  This is especially true in Kazakhstan where HIV transmission via injection drug use accounts for about three-quarters of the cases.  With widespread availability of low-cost heroin, Kazakhstan has an estimated 174,000 IDUs, representing about 1.6% of the adult population.

Despite this growing HIV epidemic, to date, no behavioral interventions have been developed and tested to reduce HIV risk behaviors among IDUs in the region.  The study will test the efficacy of a couples-based HIV/STI prevention intervention to decrease the incidence of HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Central Asia.  The study also seeks to increase condom use and reduce unsafe injection practices among active injecting drug users (IDUs) and their heterosexual, intimate partners.  Four hundred couples from Kazakhstan will be enrolled in the study.

“The magnitude and continued spread of HIV and other STIs among IDUs in Kazakhstan and surrounding countries suggests a scientific and ethical imperative for prevention research with this high-risk population,” says Dr. El-Bassel. “The study will be the first to address a significant public health threat of the transmission of HIV, Hepatitis C and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among a population of active IDUs and their sexual partners.”  

For more information about GHRCCA, please visit http://www.ghrcca.columbia.edu.  To interview Dr. El-Bassel, please contact Jeannie Hii via email or 212-851-2327.

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