Hi everyone- welcome to the blog reboot! For those of you who read our first couple of entries, we want to take a step back and explain a little more about the study and what it’s like before jumping into our experiences. 🙂
So the reason we get to spend two months in South Africa and a week in Namibia this summer is that something big is going on here- the first large-scale study of male-male couples in Africa. Funded by two large, international agencies- the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the MAC AIDS Foundation (yes, like the makeup), this project looks at how men who have sex with men (MSM in research lingo) in relationships use HIV prevention services and how things like homophobia, anti-LGBT stigma, and discrimination affect their health behaviours.
Now, obviously John and I aren’t the brains behind this operation- to design, fund, and implement a multi-million-dollar international study requires some serious credentials and experience. Two professors from the University of Michigan School of Nursing- Drs. Rob Stephenson and Lynae Darbes- as well as one from the University of California at San Francisco (Dr. Tim Lane) form the US-based investigators. Along with Dr. Heidi Van Rooyen at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) of South Africa (where we’re working- yay!), they are the ones who formulated this study from the ground up. In conjunction with two indispensable community partner organizations (that we’ll profile later), this project is teeming with great minds.
As we mentioned in the first blog, this study (dubbed Together Tomorrow) has three phases: the first consisted of Key Informant Interviews: our community partners talked to people in the community with a knowledge of MSM health issues and asked them what kinds of places MSM and their partners hang out and what key issues we might want to bring up with them. Phase 2 was made up of focus groups of MSM and their partners as well as interviews with one couple at a time facilitated by the community partners. During these meetings, the participants told us more about those key issues, what health services they might like to see that are couples-based, how they feel being in a male relationship in South Africa and Namibia, etc. From this rich qualitative data, the team adapt existing scales on everything from sex behaviours to depression and measures of how marginalized these men feel in their communities to put together a quantitative survey that we will deliver to a larger sample of MSM and their partners.
That’s where John and I come in.
We’re here to help develop the study, liaise with the US-based researchers and the community partners, and work to get this huge, 300+ question survey ready for roll-out in the community. This usually takes 3-6 months. We’re aiming to do it in 6-8 weeks.
A large-scale study like this has a lot of moving parts, and we’re here to help facilitate those as best we can. We’re also here to observe and learn from the best. The HSRC has done this a hundred times and has the connections and infrastructure necessary to make this project a success. Watching how research goes from paper to person is fascinating to witness first-hand, and we intend to soak up as much about how it works as we can.
We hope you’ll join us!