Jennifer Huang Bouey, an associate professor of international health at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, received a $50,000 grant to conduct a one-year study on the risk factors and best practices against the HIV epidemic in Washington, D.C., from the District of Columbia Developmental Center for AIDS Research.

Bouey received the grant as part of the D.C. D-CFAR’s Pilot Awards Program, which seeks to provide funds for HIV investigators to assist them in their research. In addition, the organization offers grants to one or two pilot studies per year which they select through a highly selective peer-review process.

The D.C. D-CFAR is a federally funded initiative that aims to promote HIV/AIDS research to end the epidemic in D.C. The organization is composed of six universities and institutes, including Georgetown University, American University and the Children’s National Medical Center.

Bouey said that she hopes her research will increase awareness and support for individuals in D.C. with a high risk for HIV.

“I am very happy to receive this funding as it marks the start of a new direction in my research,” Bouey wrote in an email. “It takes a long time to foster a rapport to work with local communities that serve high-risk populations. This D.C. D-CFAR funding in a way confirmed the success of our longtime effort to create an academic community team in Washington D.C. to work with this marginalized population at high risk for HIV.”

NHS Interim Dean Patricia Cloonan, said that Bouey’s research would continue the NHS’s mission of serving marginalized communities.

“As she expands her focus to include our local community, it is great that she has received this funding to support her work,” Cloonan wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Our school seeks to advance the health and well-being of all people with a particular attention on the underserved and marginalized.”

Bouey’s previous research includes seven years of community-based work with rural-to-urban migrant women in China. With this one-year pilot study, Bouey plans to build upon her research in the context of the United States.

“Migration and sexual violence are two precursors highly correlated with HIV and STI among female commercial sex workers worldwide,” Bouey wrote. “The relationship between these factors has not previously been explored in urban areas of the United States and the impact of such violence on the biological plausibility for STI and HIV infection has not been well established.”

Bouey stressed the importance of the pilot study in D.C., a center of commercial sex work where there is a high risk of STI and HIV infection for female residents and travellers.

“The nation’s capital has already been identified as a hub for commercial sex work along the East Coast corridor,” Bouey wrote. “This is problematic given the city’s high HIV prevalence rates, among the highest in the United States. Thus, women travelling into this environment to engage in sex work may face a greatly increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. Developing interventions that can effectively reach this travelling population and gather data from them are urgently needed.”

The project will involve a multidisciplinary team of experts in community and behavioral research, immunology, gynecology and epidemiology from Georgetown and George Washington University. The team will also work with long-time local community organization Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, which promotes the health and rights of drug users, sex workers and their communities.

According to Bouey, the pilot study will cover a range of research methods, including both qualitative and quantitative approaches to gathering data.

“We will start with qualitative focus group discussions and in-depth interviews,” Bouey wrote. “The interviews will help us obtain firsthand data from community organizations, public health agencies, policymakers, and female sex workers. We also provide HIV/HCV testing and collect immunology biomarkers.”

Bouey also said that the bridging of these various types of research methods is important not only in obtaining data, but also in serving as a model for future multidisciplinary research.

“Research involving the collection of biological material has encountered low participation rates, due to a history of unethical public health research in the United States,” Bouey wrote. “Our study will serve as a model that bridges bench science, behavioral research and community participation to develop a ‘best practice’ model that will eventually benefit both scientific research and marginalized high-risk populations.”

Manavi Bhagwat (NHS ’16), one of Bouey’s students who will take part in the upcoming pilot study this summer, expressed her excitement about working more closely with Bouey.

“I’m incredibly impressed,” Bhagwat said. “When she described the project to me, I was pretty amazed at the fact that she was able to translate her experience in international health to the D.C. area and work on a project so close to home. I’m sure she’s going to be very successful with her project.”

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