Host organisation: SACEMA, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

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

Dr Zachary 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.

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.

AREF Fellowship research project:

The AREF Fellowship enabled Dr Kwena to advance his skills in epidemiological data analysis and modelling. Dr Kwena attended two short courses at Stellenbosch University and then applied 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).

“My AREF Fellowship was 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”.