A new grant will help deliver HIV prevention services to people in Uganda who are injecting drugs.

Renee Heffron and Andrew Mujugira are key personnel on the grant, which will support research through 2025. The project will implement pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), train a mental health staff, and also include project implementation, data collection, stakeholder engagement, and dissemination of the results to communities.

“There’s been very little work in general in African people who inject drugs,” Heffron said. “This will be among the first studies in Uganda, there have been smaller ones, but this will be the first of its size. The Ugandan Ministry of Health intends to use the results of the work to directly update the existing guidance they have in place for people who inject drugs.”

According to Mujugira, there were 53,000 new HIV infections in Uganda in 2018, with a large percentage occurring in people who use drugs (PWUD). However, the limited data on HIV burden in PWUD highlights the importance of wide scale access to HIV treatment, as an estimated 45% of the PWUD population is living with HIV.

“Evaluating PrEP delivery for PWUD is key to addressing research gaps in HIV epidemic control,” Mujugira explained. “The ultimate goal of this grant is to evaluate the integration of harm reduction services with PrEP for HIV-negative PWUD in Uganda using community and facility-based approaches. The data from these evaluations will inform Uganda’s efforts to end HIV/AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.” 

The process for reaching this goal involves several steps that will take place over the grant’s five-year lifespan. The first year will be dedicated to formative work via qualitative interviews and data collection. PrEP integration will begin in the second year, with Heffron, Mujugira, and the rest of their team installing a monitoring and evaluation system, making sure all the commodities for PrEP delivery are there, training the mental health staff on PrEP, and doing data extraction from their records. A separate, community-based project is a program that will work to integrate PrEP into a syringe services exchange.

In addition to Heffron and Mujugira, Acting Assistant Professor Kristin Beima-Sofie, Affiliate Assistant Professor Barrot Lambdin, and Sara Glick, a Research Assistant Professor from the Department of Medicine’s Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases are included on the grant. The full title of the grant is “Implementation science research on PrEP delivery and costing within MAT and NSP services for PWUD in Uganda”.