Rutgers University Awarded $3 Million Grant for HIV Research Study in African Youth

Rutgers University has received a significant $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to embark on a four-year study exploring the legal and ethical obstacles associated with conducting HIV research among youth populations in Africa. The project, supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, aims to identify barriers and challenges faced in conducting HIV studies involving underage key populations across central, east, west, and southern Africa.

The research team, composed of experts from the Rutgers Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research (IFH), will closely examine existing research gaps and seek insights from researchers and members of research ethics committees on strategies to overcome hurdles in conducting studies involving underage key populations.

To achieve their objectives, the team plans to analyze the policies of African nations concerning parental consent for minors' participation in research. They will also organize focus groups and surveys involving research ethics committee members and HIV researchers who have either included or excluded minors in their studies.

The findings of this comprehensive study will be shared with fellow researchers, ethics committee members, and organizations representing youth and key populations throughout Africa. Ashley Grosso, the study's principal investigator and a core faculty member at the Center for Population Behavioral Health at IFH, stressed the significance of including underage youth from high-risk populations in HIV research. She pointed out that "excluding minors from research makes it difficult to develop interventions to prevent and treat HIV among underage key populations."

Africa currently faces the highest HIV prevalence worldwide, with nearly two-thirds of new HIV infections occurring in the region, as reported by the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, underage youth from high-risk populations, including females engaged in sex work and gay men and men who have sex with men, are often excluded from research efforts. This exclusion significantly hampers the development and evaluation of interventions that could potentially improve their health outcomes.

The study's esteemed co-investigators include Donald Hoover, Nir Eyal, and Mark Budolfson from IFH, Richard Marlink from the Rutgers Global Health Institute, and Francis Barchi from the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and IFH. Collaborators from other institutions include Mary Kasule from Botswana-Baylor Children's Clinical Centre of Excellence and Charles Hounmenou from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Notably, the study's advisory board comprises representatives from each of the 48 countries involved in the research.

With this substantial grant, Rutgers University is poised to make significant strides in HIV research among African youth, shedding light on the legal and ethical dimensions while ultimately striving to improve health outcomes for this vulnerable population.

Article by Jed Mwangi