Dr. Elwin Wu Awarded Grant to Test Innovative Couple-Based Programs to Prevent HIV and Other Health Concerns Among Black Men Who Have Sex With Men

January 18, 2012 @ 4:53 pm

Dr. Elwin Wu, 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) 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. The study will be conducted at the CUSSW Social Intervention Group (SIG), with Drs. Nabila El-Bassel and Louisa Gilbert serving as Co-Investigators on the SIG investigative team.

This study addresses 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 (or CNU–pronounced "seein' you"–for short) targets Black MSM who 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 who have a recent history of stimulant use and engage in high risk sexual behaviors. These couples will be randomly assigned to receive a HIV risk reduction intervention versus a control condition consisting of a general health promotion intervention that targets other prominent health concerns (e.g., diabetes, cancer, hypertension, stress) among Black men. 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–such as social exclusion from the Black and/or LGBT communities (e.g., "down low" vs. "out"), lack of visible positive models/representations of Black same-sex couples, feeling blamed for the HIV epidemic–that threaten the well-being of Black MSM and their intimate relationships.

"The HIV retrovirus itself can not inherently recognize race nor sexual orientation. The obvious conclusion is that social and behavioral factors are driving this health disparity," says 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."

For more information or to interview Dr. Wu, please contact Moya Thompson at 301-651-8568 or mt2795@columbia.edu.