With the New Year comes many exciting events for SexLab, and one such event has been the arrival of a new collaborator and teammate, Dr. Elizabeth King. Dr. King wears many hats as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education and a Faculty Associate at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies. She is fluent in Russian and much of her work has taken place in Russia. During her undergraduate career she thought she would just take Russian to fulfill her language requirement. Little did she know, this new skill would impact and shape the career path she would choose.
Dr. King’s transition into public health was sparked as she “became more excited about using a public health framework to look at violence and focus on prevention, primary prevention, working with men, young men, and boys for the prevention of gender-based violence (GBV), supporting women who were survivors of domestic violence, as well as the role of health care workers in screening for violence or referral to care.” With her combination of interests in health, sociology, gender and social issues, GBV became a reoccurring theme in her work and impacted her transition to public health. Her involvement in this field began as early as her undergraduate career when she volunteered at a domestic violence shelter in the US and then for a domestic violence hotline and shelter for runaway youth while in St. Petersburg.
In addition to her interest in GBV, Dr. King’s research is focused on HIV prevention and access to HIV care services for key affected populations, primarily female sex workers and people who inject drugs. She explains that “HIV is one of the biggest public health issues of our time,” and that when thinking about both global and domestic public health it is difficult not to think about HIV. During her time in Russia, Dr. King was struck by the continued fear and lack of knowledge related to HIV. She recalled a story about how after returning home one day while working in Russia in the 2000s, her land lady frantically told her to wash her hands immediately since she had been on the metro and there was an epidemic of AIDS in Moscow. As Dr. King increasingly became involved with HIV prevention efforts, she began to integrate HIV with her work dedicated to GBV. She explained that she is interested in the two health topics individually, but is also increasingly curious about the linkages between the two and the bidirectional relationship between them.
As I spoke to Dr. King about her interests in the areas of HIV prevention, treatment services, and GBV, her passion for community activism and social justice became very apparent. When asked about her emphasis on and application of a human rights-based approach in her work she discussed how it “ties in well with thinking about equitable access to care and access for those who need it the most.” Furthermore, she emphasized the “right to treatment, right to care and support services.” When designing and implementing new programs or policies, such as mandatory HIV testing, Dr. King stressed the importance of considering and critically assessing the potential ethical issues and overall human rights implications of those decisions.
One of the main messages I took away from my talk with Dr. King is the importance of continually asking questions, as well as taking the time to step back and consider the socio-ecological landscape in which one is working. The questions Dr. King asked herself throughout her work, such as why there were not many female injection drug users in the biomedical center she worked at in Russia, helped sculpt her career and identify a critical gap in care for certain communities and individuals, which she could positively impact.
Although Dr. King has only been with us a short time, she has already found her place here at U-M School of Public Health (SPH) and SexLab. This semester she is teaching a qualitative research methods course and plans on teaching a global health course next Fall. She joked that she was able to practice and develop her qualitative research skills while spending hours talking with and learning from individuals while traveling around Russia by train. While at U-M, she plans on continuing some of her work in central Asia in relation to a gender assessment of access to HIV services. Additionally, she plans to continue working in Russia and is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with people in SPH and the University on projects in Detroit.
SexLab is very excited to welcome Dr. Elizabeth King and look forward to working with her in the coming years!