Dr Zachary Kwena



Dr Zachary Kwena, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenya

To develop a couples-based, intervention to prevent HIV-infection in which the paternal aunt is a significant health counsellor 

Dr Kwena is a Kenyan social scientist. He has also trained in mathematical modelling of infectious diseases with the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences and in grant-writing with AREF.
His doctoral work investigated the sexual networks among married couples in fishing communities along Lake Victoria, which are at high risk of HIV infection. The findings informed the design of a novel intervention to prevent concurrent partnerships in married couples.

“High HIV incidence due to poor uptake of available HIV prevention interventions among young couples is a big obstacle to achieving UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets to end HIV by 2030,” says Dr Kwena.

“I will seek to evaluate the efficacy of an innovative couple-focused counselling and education model (WAYA) to increase uptake of biomedical prevention interventions among couples in high-risk, fishing communities.”

The focus on couple is because decision-making for use of most HIV interventions goes beyond individuals. “Couple-centred interventions have been shown to increase commitment in relationships for partners to protect each other; reduce gender power imbalances that influence safe sex; and increase sexual communication and negotiation skills,” he says.

“Paternal aunts (WAYA) can play an important role as counsellors in modern African couple relationships.” Using a mixed methods longitudinal design, Dr Kwena will refine a WAYA intervention model. “We will exploit this cultural institution by including an aunt figure as a counsellor in our model.”

The AREF Fellowship enables Dr Kwena to advance his skills in epidemiological data analysis and modelling. Dr Kwena will attend two short courses at Stellenbosch University and then apply those new skills to his intended project. He intends to develop an analysis and modelling plan with his sponsor Dr Wim Delva at the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling (SACEMA).

Dr Kwena concludes, “My AREF Fellowship is critical to developing my capacity to analyze health data, share the findings to inform policy and programs, and further design and test novel health interventions”.