People and Community Research

Amplifying research that reaches the public

The University of Miami’s Center for HIV and Research in Mental Health is hosting its first weeklong program to train researchers in implementation science methods to help end the HIV epidemic.
Close up of doctor talking with patient about mental health in health care stock photo

Years ago, Steven Safren was looking for a way to help people living with HIV shoulder the emotional impacts of a diagnosis, while also working with them to take new medications that could help them survive and curb the spread of the disease.

He came up with a series of behavioral interventions that addressed both areas, helping to improve the future for many of these individuals. And he tried to use techniques that would make it easier to deliver these interventions in community organizations and to health care providers. His interventions are now used across the globe for HIV prevention and treatment adherence.

But Safren, a professor of psychology, is one of many researchers at the University of Miami who wants to become more involved in implementation science, or the study of how to maximize the reach, uptake, and sustainment of the most effective, evidence-based interventions to the public.

He is also director of the University’s Center for HIV and Research in Mental Health, known as CHARM. Last year the center received full funding from the National Institute of Mental Health to become the sixth AIDS Research Center in the United States to foster research addressing the mental health impacts of HIV in a place where cases remain the highest nationally. This full funding allowed CHARM to establish a new core focused on equitable implementation science.

Audrey Harkness, an assistant professor at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, is the director of CHARM's Equitable Implementation Science Core, along with co-directors Guillermo “Willy” Prado, a professor of nursing and health studies, as well as interim executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, and Mariano Kanamori, an associate professor of public health sciences at the Miller School of Medicine and director in the Division of Prevention Science and Community Health.

Next week, CHARM’s Equitable Implementation Science Core will host its first weeklong training program at the Frost Institute for Chemistry and Molecular Science. At the seminar, local and national experts will train participants in implementation science research and methods, with a particular focus on equity, to help them conduct research that improves the reach, adoption, and implementation of methods that are known to effectively prevent HIV or improve HIV-related health outcomes.

“We want to empower faculty to learn the best ways to get interventions that can help prevent and treat HIV into the communities who need them most,” Safren said. “This will allow our faculty, and other workshop participants, to have the tools needed to engage with the community and to make sure the interventions that work are disseminated and implemented.”

Although implementation science in general is focused on getting evidence-based interventions adopted and sustained in community settings, CHARM’s weeklong seminar adds a focus on equity within the field.

“We invest all this time and resources into our research, but if these interventions we develop and evaluate don’t actually reach the community, there’s no actual impact on public health. So, implementation science studies the best strategies to get these interventions into the community,” said Harkness, who conducts her own implementation research to improve the reach of local HIV services to Latino men who have sex with men.

Participants will learn how to address health care inequities through implementation research, with a series of speakers to present throughout the week who can share their knowledge and experience with researchers.

“We are focusing on how can we equitably distribute interventions that we know work, so in the end, our health outcomes will be equitable too,” Harkness added.

The need for science that reaches the community is critical to ending the HIV epidemic, Harkness added, and therefore several University faculty members with projects that have been successfully implemented in the community will be presenting. Organizers plan to build upon this year’s workshop to repeat the workshop next summer.

“Given the disparities here in South Florida, we want to build up the expertise in this area to help push the research forward,” Harkness said.

After the workshop, presentations will be available on the CHARM website for anyone interested. If you are interested in learning more about CHARM or would like to request a consultation with any of the affiliated faculty, visit its Research Navigation Portal.