UIC Psychologist Aims to Reduce Risky Sexual Behavior Among African American Girls

06/08/2010

Developing and evaluating a faith-based, HIV-prevention program for African American mothers and their daughters is the focus of Dr. Chisina Kapungu's $795,000 career development grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Kapungu, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is a clinical psychologist who has worked on HIV prevention programs, conducted research on the multi-systemic factors of HIV risk in African American adolescents, and counseled HIV-infected women and kids.

For the five-year research project, she will work with two Chicago churches to pilot a faith-based HIV prevention program for community-based educators to administer to women and their daughters, ages 13 to 16.

The project, while still in the development stage, is "going to be very collaborative, very much based on principles of community-based participatory research, with shared decision-making throughout the process," said Kapungu, who developed the project as a postdoctoral fellow at UIC's Institute for Health Research and Policy.

The intervention is based on two existing HIV prevention programs -- one developed by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, and the other an evidenced-based program, Sisters Informing, Healing, Living, and Empowering, or SIHLE, recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and proven effective among African American women and girls.

Kapungu plans to integrate the two programs and customize the curriculum based on the needs of the community, to include information about parental monitoring, assertive communication, and negotiating safe sexual practices.

"The goal of the intervention is to decrease sexual possibility situations and delay the onset of sexual debut," said Kapungu, who describes the intervention as not focused on condom usage.

Research has shown that family factors such as parental monitoring, communication, and parental attachment are associated with delays in sexual intercourse among adolescents, but, Kapungu said, "There really hasn't been empirical work in implementing faith- and family-based HIV interventions."

Although African Americans are 13 percent of the U.S. population, they experience 59 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases in the country, according to the CDC.

"The church has been an untapped resource within the HIV prevention field and can have a potentially important role in educating young people about sexuality and HIV," Kapungu said. "Worldwide, faith-based organizations have focused on secondary prevention, counseling and support for infected individuals and peer education groups, but less on primary prevention."

The grant allows Kapungu to be mentored as she advances her expertise in intervention development, her understanding of the role of faith-based organizations in HIV prevention, and her scientific leadership skills, including data collection techniques and analysis.

Leading her group of mentors are Carl Bell, director of the Institute for Juvenile Research, and Donna Baptiste, research assistant professor in psychiatry.

This news release was written by Sherri McGinnis González, associate director of the UIC News Bureau.