New York, NY – Dr. Susan Witte, associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW), has been awarded $600,000 from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIH) for a microfinance intervention for high-risk women in Mongolia.  The two-year study represents the first test of a savings-led microfinance intervention combined with HIV prevention on reductions of sexual risk behaviors among women engaged in sex work. 

A country in economic and political transition, Mongolia is at risk of joining neighboring countries in an HIV epidemic.  High rates of poverty and unemployment have resulted in an increase of women’s reliance on sex work for survival, which could dramatically increase the transmission of HIV to the general population. The combination of microfinance and HIV prevention may have a greater potential for risk reduction among women whose reliance on sexual behavior as a means for economic support prevents them from focusing on longer-term sexual health consequences.  This study responds to the identified need in current literature for rigorous testing of combination microfinance and HIV prevention efforts to reduce sexual risks such as HIV and STIs.  Current research suggests that individually based interventions are too limited, and that gender, economic, and migration issues restrict the impact of sexual risk prevention interventions.  This study aims to address the concurrent issues of economic instability and risky sexual practices, and may advance the gender-specific prevention repertoire for women at risk. 
Using multiple evidence-based microfinance components such as financial literacy, business development training/mentorship, and matched savings, in conjunction with an evidence-based HIV sexual risk reduction intervention, the study will examine whether this combined approach impacts reductions in sexual risk among sex workers in a low-income country. "We have a strong, committed team who have been incredibly creative in their ability to listen carefully to the community and to blend the articulated needs of the Mongolian women with whom we are working with the best evidence interventions available,” Dr. Witte says.  “We believe that if the study is successful, it may inform the gender-specific prevention repertoire for women at increased risk globally."
Dr. Witte, who is also the Associate Director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG) and Country Director of Mongolia for the Global Health Research Center of Central Asia (GHRCCA), will be collaborating with a team of CUSSW investigators on the study, including Drs. Nabila El-Bassel, Marion Riedel, and Fred Ssewemala, and PhD student Laura Cordisco-Tsai. Co-Investigators Aira Toivgoo, PhD and Altantsetseg Batsukh, MD, MSW of the Wellspring NGO in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, will be conducting the research on the ground. Wellspring NGO has been working with Dr. Witte for the past four years and recently joined the network of local NGOs working within the GHRCCA umbrella.
For media inquiries, please contact Jeannie Hii via email or 212-851-2327
Columbia University’s Global Health Research Center of Central Asia (GHRCCA), established in 2007, develops and advances evidence-based, sustainable solutions to emerging public health and social issues in the Central Asia region through rigorous research, education, training and policy analysis.  This multi-disciplinary center creates crosscutting partnerships with governments, universities and non-governmental organizations in the region and worldwide to achieve its mission.  GHRCCA’s offices and partnering local NGOs are located in New York City; Almaty, Kazakhstan; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.


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