There are an estimated 3.4 million refugees living in sub-Saharan Africa, a region of the world which hosts 71% of the global population living with HIV. Displaced for an average of 17 years, refugees are a vulnerable population at risk of exposure to HIV due to violence and persecution. With competing survival needs, language and cultural barriers, and disrupted social networks, refugees face unique challenges accessing HIV care. HIV prevalence in refugee settlements in sub-Saharan Africa is often unknown and HIV research in this population is limited. Candidate: During my research fellowship, I conducted a clinic-based routine HIV testing study in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda demonstrating that only 54% of newly diagnosed HIV-infected clients linked to care. I am applying for a K23 Career Development Award to acquire the skills to become an independent investigator focused on understanding linkage to HIV care for refugees and developing interventions to improve engagement in care for this unique population.


Dr. Ingrid Bassett (Mentor) is an expert on linkage to HIV care in resource-limited settings and winner of the Harvard Medical School Young Mentor Award. I will also be guided by Co-Mentors, Dr. Paul Spiegel (the Deputy Director of the Division of Programme Support and Management at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNCHR], expert in the structural dimensions of refugee health), Dr. Edgar Mulogo (HIV researcher, faculty in Uganda), and Dr. Laura Bogart (expert in behavioral science, HIV intervention research, and qualitative methods). Committed advisors include Dr. Richard Mollica (Director of the Harvard Program in Refugee Trauma), Dr. Alexander Tsai (psychiatrist, expert on psychosocial intervention research for HIV- infected people in Uganda), Dr. Julius Kasozi (UNHCR in Uganda, expert in refugee health and Uganda health policy), Dr. Michael VanRooyen (Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative), Dr. Norma Ware (qualitative methods), and Dr. Robert Parker (biostatistics, HIV trial design). Research: Within the social-ecological framework, I will 1) use qualitative methods to understand barriers to HIV care and means to overcome barriers for refugees in Nakivale; 2) prospectively enroll a cohort of HIV-infected refugees to assess which social-ecological factors correlate with failure to link to HIV care in Nakivale; and 3) use intervention mapping methodology to develop, implement, and evaluate a pilot intervention to improve linkage to HIV care in Nakivale. Training: The research is supported by training in health behavior theory and ecologic context of HIV care in resource-limited settings with an in-depth focus on mental health, analytic techniques including survey and geographic information system methods, and intervention development. The project will provide training and pilot data needed to develop an R01 application for a randomized HIV linkage intervention trial in three refugee settlements in Uganda. With my dedication to evaluating interventions to improve care for refugees, support from an exceptional mentoring team, strong institutional commitment, and an innovative research plan, I am well-positioned to become an independent clinical investigator focused on refugee health.

Public Health Relevance

Refugees in sub-Saharan Africa face considerable hardships accessing HIV clinical care. I propose to evaluate barriers to linkage to HIV care and potential means to overcome those barriers in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda. I will develop and pilot a refugee-specific linkage intervention to assess whether this strategy improves engagement in care for newly diagnosed HIV-infected clients in the settlement.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award (K23)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Senn, Theresa Elaine
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University of Washington
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O'Laughlin, Kelli N; He, Wei; Greenwald, Kelsy E et al. (2018) Feasibility and acceptability of home-based HIV testing among refugees: a pilot study in Nakivale refugee settlement in southwestern Uganda. BMC Infect Dis 18:332
O'Laughlin, Kelli N; Rouhani, Shada A; Kasozi, Julius et al. (2018) A qualitative approach to understand antiretroviral therapy (ART) adherence for refugees living in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda. Confl Health 12:7
Rouhani, Shada A; O'Laughlin, Kelli N; Faustin, Zikama M et al. (2017) The role of social support on HIV testing and treatment adherence: A qualitative study of HIV-infected refugees in southwestern Uganda. Glob Public Health 12:1051-1064
O'Laughlin, K N; Kasozi, J; Rabideau, D J et al. (2017) The cascade of HIV care among refugees and nationals in Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Uganda. HIV Med 18:513-518
O'Laughlin, Kelli N; Rabideau, Dustin J; Kasozi, Julius et al. (2016) Predictors of HIV infection: a prospective HIV screening study in a Ugandan refugee settlement. BMC Infect Dis 16:695