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Dr. Sandra McCoy and partners secure $6 million to study HIV interventions in sub-Saharan Africa

A coalition made up of UC Berkeley School of Public Health’s Dr. Sandra McCoy; Dr. Mackfallen Anasel of Mzumbe University, Tanzania; and Dr. Prosper Njau of the Tanzania Ministry of Health have been awarded $6 million to study HIV interventions among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. The award is part of a larger initiative of the U.S. National Institutes of Health to support clinical and implementation research to improve health outcomes among adolescents with or at risk for HIV in Africa.

The grant will fund a  five-year project co-led by the three researchers, which will establish one of eight funded Clinical Research Centers focused on adolescent health in Africa. Specifically, their Mwotaji (“Dreamer” in Kishwahili) Clinical Research Center in Tanzania will study methods to deliver HIV prevention, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP, medication taken to prevent the transmission of HIV), to young women at community pharmacies to increase healthcare access and reduce stigma.

This project is an extension of Dr. McCoy’s collaborative work in epidemiology to design, implement, and rigorously evaluate new implementation strategies for HIV prevention, as well as to support the health and wellbeing of people living with HIV. Her emphasis in recent years has been studying HIV treatment and low-cost ways to improve engagement in care and treatment adherence.

McCoy’s work is particularly relevant because it has been well documented that girls and young women in sub-Saharan Africa are at a disproportionately high risk of HIV compared to their male counterparts. Little awareness of sex education and stigma around reproductive health have contributed to this, in addition to barriers to accessing prevention medication such as PrEP.

The award will also allow the center to create a certificate program in implementation science at the Centre of Excellence in Health Monitoring and Evaluation at Mzumbe University, which will facilitate the study of policy methods and their use every day. This will create a sustainable network of researchers, implementers, and government officials trained in implementation science to serve the needs of adolescents in the future.