Marta Mulawa, a postdoctoral scholar at the Duke Global Health Institute and the Team Leader for the Bass Connections Team "Social Networks and Health - Customizing a Tool to Collect Complex Network Data among HIV-positive Youth in South Africa,” recently traveled to Miami, Florida, to present her team’s research at the 13th International Conference on HIV Treatment and Prevention Adherence (Adherence 2018). The research, titled “ART Adherence and Social Network Structure and Function among HIV-Infected Women in Cape Town, South Africa” was done in collaboration with Bass Connections students, Shannon Elliott (Global Health, Masters of Science Student) and Allison Geary (Economics and Public Policy Studies, Undergraduate Student). Drs. Alexander Volfovsky, James Moody, John Joska, and Kathleen Sikkema served as faculty mentors.
This research served as the culmination of the yearlong Bass Connections project. Marta and her Bass Connections team customized an existing tablet-based tool to collect complex social network data among people living with HIV in South Africa. Using this customized tool, her team collected social network data from a subset of participants enrolled in a study led by Dr. Kathleen Sikkema in Cape Town, South Africa. Shannon Elliott, who completed her MS Practicum in Cape Town under the supervision of Dr. Sikkema, contributed immensely to this project by training local research staff and overseeing the data collection. Once back at Duke, Shannon and the rest of the Bass Connections team then analyzed these data to examine the structure and function of participants’ social networks and explored associations between network characteristics and participants’ ART adherence.
The team found preliminary evidence that functional social network characteristics may be associated with adherence to antiretroviral therapy among people living with HIV. These research findings suggest that functional social network characteristics should be further examined so as to expand our understanding of the factors shaping ART adherence. Marta was excited to travel to the Adherence 2018 conference to share this research with other scholars.