Global Research Project to Address Social Health Needs of Older South Africans Living with HIV

Enid Schatz, Ph.D., an associate professor in health sciences at the School of Health Professions, received a $10,000 grant award from the University of Missouri South African Education Program (UMSAEP), an educational initiative and exchange program between the University of Missouri (UM) and the University of Western Cape (UWC). The funding will support her research project that seeks to improve the well-being of South Africans over the age of 60 who are living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

Dr. Enid Schatz’s collaborative study is in partnership with Dr. Lucia Knight, senior lecturer at the School of Public Health (UWC).

Over the next two years, the researchers will collect background information on a potential population with which to work in Langa, an established, yet poverty-stricken township on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa.

South Africa has one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world. HIV prevalence rates among older Africans are steadily increasing and they are an understudied population in regards to HIV, health and social support. As a result, older South Africans are at great risk for poor mental and physical health outcomes, due to being marginalized and/or overburdened with care responsibilities.

Through the research project, Dr. Enid Schatz will combine her expertise in older people’s health and well-being with Dr. Lucia Knight’s expert knowledge in the role of government supported social grants for families and children, as well as general access to treatment and care.

“We discovered that access to social support and care is lacking because most HIV-focused interventions do not target older persons,” Schatz said. “We’re first aiming to understand whether social grants received by older persons, or their family members, diminish what seems to be barriers to access and adherence to antiretroviral treatment (ART), which is a drug for patients with HIV.”

Also, the researchers want to develop an intervention to help older people access and adherence to ART. One idea is a mobile health worker position dedicated to bringing ART to older persons where they live, such as Langa, instead of the older person having to travel to a clinic. The mobile health worker will check-in with patients, providing social support, as well as supplying them with prescribed medication, as needed.

During Schatz’s visit to South Africa in December 2015, the two researchers began working on the preliminary stages of the project by touring the area in Langa, to note what resources will be available to them during their studies. Throughout spring 2016, they will conduct focus group discussions and collect data on the study population. Interviews with community leaders and public, private, or lay health care staff working in the Langa community are slated for the near future, as well. Schatz and Knight hope the interviews help gauge the perceived view on older persons’ financial, physical, and mental well-being, and the services needed to improve an older persons’ condition.

Data from the final study will be used in a National Institute Health (NIH) R21 grant proposal that would develop and test a social intervention designed to improve ART access and adherence among the study population.

Schatz and Knight hope research results will improve older persons’ health and well-being through ART access and adherence, as well as peer support among the older populations of South Africans by fostering more conversation about and encouragement to seek assistance with social and health needs of those living with HIV.