Dr. Jessy G. Dévieux and Dr. Mario De La Rosa, professors at Florida International University (FIU) Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, are co-principal investigators on a newly awarded three-year grant for $645,800 from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The grant will develop a community-driven intervention that aims to empower women of color in South Florida. The purpose of this grant is to help women of color understand and utilize pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an oral medication used in high-risk populations, as a protective measure for maintaining sexual health and HIV-free lives.
[Photo: Dr. Jessy G. Dévieux]
“I began my career during the first decade of the HIV epidemic when the stigma and uncertainty were severe and there were no biomedical solutions,” said Dr. Dévieux. “Then we were confronted with how the epidemic exploited every societal disparity and every human vulnerability. Increasingly, women from all lifestyles were affected as viable female-controlled methods of prevention became harder to find. That means they were limited by their dependence on the male condom and the cooperation of their male partner.”
Most prevention interventions revolve around how to empower a woman behaviorally to negotiate the use of a condom. For Dr. Dévieux, the opportunity to conduct this project is especially gratifying because it is making a female-controlled preventive medication accessible to women who are most at risk.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that South Florida has the highest HIV rates in the nation, and women of color are disproportionately affected. Stempel College researchers will focus on African American, Hispanic and Haitian women in Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
Many women at risk do not know about PrEP and are not using it to lower their chances of HIV infection. Without the necessary knowledge or access to care, they will continue to at risk for HIV due to unsafe sex and alcohol and other drug use. Through community-based participatory research (CBPR), the team will implement a pilot program for 120 women from three sites across South Florida a six-month period. Their research will measure adherence and retention in care among PrEP users and determine the feasibility of a future large-scale project.
Dr. Dévieux is the director of the AIDS Prevention Program and a professor in the department of health promotion and disease prevention (HPDP) at Stempel College. Dr. De La Rosa is a professor in Stempel College’s School of Social Work and the director of the Center for Substance Use and AIDS Research on Latinos (CRUSADA), which comprises health disparities centers funded by NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).
“This is just another example of the successful results from collaborative efforts of our esteemed faculty — together for the greater good,” said Dr. Tomás R. Guilarte, dean of Stempel College.
Members of the research team include:
NIAAA award number U34AA026219 funds this study through 2020.