Researchers Report on Progress of NIDA's Southern Africa Initiative

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Research projects conducted under NIDA's Southern Africa Initiative help universities and other organizations in southern Africa build research capacity and infrastructure in the area of addiction, particularly drug-related HIV transmission. The Initiative, administered by NIDA's Special Populations Office (SPO) with assistance from the International Program, comprises 12 research projects. NIDA-funded investigators based in the United States and African collaborators recently reported on the progress of their projects, most of which have taken place or are ongoing in the Republic of South Africa.

Dr. Torrance Stephens of Morehouse School of Medicine and Dr. Sibusiso Sifunda of the South African Medical Research Council described the development and testing of a peer-led intervention to prevent about-to-be-released prison inmates from spreading sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, to community residents. The intervention—which included cultural perspectives on manhood and responsibility, videotaped stories from role models, and group discussions—improved participants' attitudes regarding safe sex and their motivation to reduce risky behaviors. The research team worked closely with the South African minister of corrections and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) in nine provinces and four prisons to provide training for DCS staff and peer education for ex-inmates.

Dr. Murelle Harrison of Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Dr. Dorothy Malaka of the University of Limpopo, South Africa, reported on a comparison of African-American and South African families living in rural areas. They observed similar sociodemographic and family characteristics and youth behaviors in both populations. For example, children who spent more time interacting with their mothers also showed better self-control and cognitive development. The team hopes the baseline data will serve as a foundation for a subsequent family intervention. In other project results, 22 South African students were trained in epidemiological data collection methods, two South African researchers observed rural data collection in the United States and sharpened skills with computer software for data analysis, and 18 primary school teachers and nine principals received assistance with educational computer technology.

Dr. Donnie Watson of the Friends Research Institute in Torrance, California and Dr. Solomon Rataemane of the University of Limpopo reviewed preliminary findings from a comparison of three different approaches to teaching experienced drug abuse counselors cognitive-behavioral therapy: (1) in-person training with subsequent supervision, (2) distance learning of the same training with subsequent telephone-based supervision, and (3) self-study with a therapy manual after an initial orientation. The in-person and distance-learning approaches were well-received, and the team continues to recruit licensed clinicians who work in 30 South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence treatment centers. "The Southern Africa Initiative represents a relatively small investment, $2 to $2.5 million, with a tremendous payoff for all participants," says SPO Chief Dr. Lula Beatty. "After hearing reports on the research projects, my colleagues and I were struck by the immediate impact that some of the collaborations had on communities." NIDA hopes that information obtained from the projects will facilitate the use of evidence-based interventions that are culturally appropriate for southern Africa and that the training activities will strengthen addiction research in the region.