Mapping HIV Prevention Efforts

Professor Blair Johnson at his office on Nov. 8, 2011. (Max Sinton for UConn)
A UConn researcher is using GIS to analyze how environment, culture, and politics can affect the efficacy of HIV prevention interventions.



Psychology professor Blair Johnson, a principal investigator with CHIP, is using GIS to analyze factors affecting the efficacy of HIV prevention interventions. (Max Sinton for UConn)
Psychology professor Blair Johnson, a principal investigator with CHIP, is using GIS to analyze factors affecting the efficacy of HIV prevention interventions. (Max Sinton for UConn)

CHIP principal investigator Blair T. Johnson has undertaken federally-funded HIV prevention research for the past 16 years, but his latest work in the field required the social psychology professor in UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to master a new discipline – geospatial analysis.

For the past year, since the National Institute of Mental Health awarded him a K-18 mentored career development grant, Johnson has immersed himself in the study of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) – reading the field’s leading journals and monitoring GIS listservs, auditing UConn courses in geographical statistics, and meeting regularly with his mentor on the grant, Ellen Cromley, a former geography professor at UConn and author of GIS and Public Health.

Johnson is fusing his new training with his internationally-known expertise in meta-analysis to determine how geospatial factors, such as environment, culture, and politics, can affect the efficacy of HIV prevention interventions. His ultimate goal is to assemble a geospatial landscape of HIV prevention interventions and publish an interactive map on the Internet so that it can become a resource for researchers, public health workers, and policy makers around the world.

His “Syntheses of HIV & AIDS Research Project (SHARP)” research team has begun building such a map for HIV prevention efforts in Africa, and next plans to create a similar map for the U.S.

“HIV requires thinking about society,” Johnson says. “Unless you think about relationships with others, the networks individuals are involved in, willing and unwillingly, you can’t put the epidemic in perspective.

“Structural level descriptions – at the level of neighborhoods as well as countries – help predict the success of interventions,” he adds.

Johnson says his work “will elucidate what strategies are best equipped to create the best interventions for some of the hardest hit regions of the world.

“By creating a map where prevention efforts were studied, policy makers will be able to see what studies have been done, how old they are, and if they can still trust the results,” he says.

Last fall, SHARP published an article based on its preliminary work incorporating geospatially defined social indicators into a meta-analysis of HIV prevention interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean. The team found that in this region the Human Development Index – the United Nations’ index of development based on life expectancy, education, and a country’s gross domestic product – is inversely related to HIV trial outcomes. In other words, HIV prevention interventions yield very few results in wealthier nations, while in poorer countries the interventions produce better results. They have found similar results for HIV prevention trials in Africa and Asia, as well.

Their results also suggest that HIV prevention interventions designed for African women yield marked short-term success, but the power dynamics at play between men and women in Africa threaten the long-term success of such interventions.

Johnson said his initial papers published using geospatial strategies have been a start, but the training he has undergone through his one-year grant is now allowing him to conduct similar analyses with greater detail and sophistication.

This latest work builds on the SHARP team’s recent line of research using meta-analytic methods to develop a theory of HIV prevention based on individuals’ linkages to important networks and the resources they share.

The work of Johnson’s SHARP team has been made possible through three, consecutive, NIMH regular research grants. SHARP is among NIMH’s longest-running HIV prevention grants.

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.