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NIH Grants to Support Research on Reducing Stigma as a Barrier to Infectious Disease Care

By Maryland Today Staff

Supported by two recent grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a University of Maryland research team will partner with the South African Medical Research Council to focus on how disease stigma affects tuberculosis (TB) and HIV patients in South Africa, home to the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS and one of the highest rates of TB globally.

The same community health workers deployed to interact with HIV and TB patients are now charged with doing home-based testing for COVID-19, which is prevalent and increasing in South Africa.

“Although our grant proposals were submitted prior to COVID-19, these projects will give us an opportunity to support health care workers in interacting with patients who have mental health and substance use problems, which we know are at high risk for increasing during and following the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Jessica Magidson, an assistant psychology professor at UMD and a lead investigator on both research projects.

  • One project, supported by a $600,000 award from the National Institute of Mental Health, involves training community health workers making home visits to HIV and TB patients who have missed clinic appointments. The program aims to reduce stigma around mental health and substance use and develop effective ways to re-engage patients who are struggling with these problems.
  • The second project, funded by a $360,000 award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Fogarty International Center at NIH, will evaluate how to integrate people with a personal history of substance use into HIV care teams, a strategy that Magidson’s team has been evaluating in the U.S. in response to the opioid crisis.

In addition to Magidson, Bronwyn Myers from the South African Medical Research Council will serve as a co-principal investigator on both research projects. Other UMD team members include Charles Ma, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, postdoctoral fellow Jennifer Belus in psychology, and clinical psychology doctoral students Kristen Regenauer and Alix Rose.

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