HIV-infected women in South Africa report high rates of sexual trauma, which negatively impacts their mental health and potentially influences engagement in HIV care (retention in care and adherence to antiretroviral therapy) and risk behaviors. Addressing the traumatic stress resulting from sexual trauma could improve these HIV-related outcomes, which in turn may prevent HIV transmission through suppression of the virus and reduction in HIV risk behaviors. Intervention research among HIV-infected populations with trauma histories in the U.S. demonstrates that a coping approach, particularly one that reduces the use of avoidant coping strategies, is efficacious in reducing traumatic stress and improving health behaviors. Although South Africa faces dual epidemics of HIV and sexual violence, trauma treatment has not been well-integrated into the HIV care setting. The proposed 3-year study will develop and pilot test an intervention called ImpACT (Improving AIDS Care after Trauma) to reduce avoidant coping, traumatic stress, and risk behaviors, and increase engagement in care. The intervention will take place in a public ART clinic and will target women during the critical period when they initiate ART in order to maximize the impact on engagement in care. Qualitative data collection with staff, providers, and HIV-infected female patients at the study clinic will elicit feedback on the content and delivery of ImpACT and key aspects of the study protocol. ImpACT will then be piloted with 60 women who are new ART enrollees with a history of sexual trauma and elevated traumatic stress. Participants will be randomized to the control condition (standard of care, or SoC: 3 adherence counseling sessions required of all patients initiating ART at the clinic) or the intervention condition (SoC + ImpACT) and will complete assessments at baseline, 3, and 6 months post-randomization, with care engagement data extracted from medical records at the end of the study period. The study has three specific aims: 1) to develop a brief and scalable coping intervention for delivery in the South African HIV care setting for women with sexual trauma histories;2) to establish the methodological details of an experimental protocol for a robust randomized control trial;and 3) to pilot test the ImpACT intervention with 60 HIV-infected women with histories of sexual trauma who are initiating ART in order to determine feasibility and acceptability in the HIV care setting, and explore the impact on avoidant coping, traumatic stress, engagement in care, and HIV risk behaviors. The goal at the completion of this study is to have a structured intervention curriculum that is culturally relevant for HIV infected women in South Africa, a full experimental protocol that is appropriate for the South African care setting, and data on feasibility, acceptability, and target outcomes. These products can be leveraged to inform an R01 application for rigorous evaluation of the ImpACT intervention. We are confident that this developmental work will significantly enhance the probability of success of a larger randomized control trial.

Public Health Relevance

Women in South Africa face dual epidemics of HIV and sexual violence. The resulting traumatic stress may compromise retention in HIV care and adherence to antiretroviral therapy, and increase sexual risk behavior and substance use. This study will develop and pilot a brief intervention, based on theories of stress and coping, for women with histories of sexual trauma initiating ART in South Africa. This intervention has the potential to improve care engagement and reduce risk behaviors, and therefore prevent HIV transmission.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Planning Grant (R34)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZMH1-ERB-M (02))
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Grossman, Cynthia I
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Duke University
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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