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NICHD’s Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Fellowship Awarded to Dornsife Doctoral Student

Student headshot

May 31, 2023

Luwam Gebrekristos, MPH, a third-year Epidemiology doctoral student in the department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Dornsife School of Public Health (DSPH), was selected for the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) fellowship from the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD).

This funding will enable Gebrekristos to lead research on integrating spatial and non-spatial data to examine the multilevel drivers of HIV risk among adolescent mothers in sub-Saharan Africa.

HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa occurs predominantly among young people (aged 15-24 years old) and within micro-epidemics (high HIV prevalence areas). Among adolescents, girls account for 80 percent of all adolescent HIV infections (15-19 years old) and adolescent mothers are at higher HIV risk than non-parenting girls. However, as adolescent mothers have been largely overlooked in HIV prevention research, gaps in knowledge regarding where micro-epidemics occur among adolescent mothers and how structural (e.g., urbanization) and relational HIV risk factors impact adolescent mothers’ HIV risk remain.

To address these gaps in research, Gebrekristos aims to inform targeted HIV prevention interventions and programmatic activities by identifying and characterizing micro-epidemics, identifying relationship typologies, and examining multilevel risk factors that increase adolescent mothers’ risk of HIV infection in nine sub-Saharan Africa countries heavily burdened by HIV.

This fellowship also enables additional training and mentorship while conducting her dissertation research from the following Dornsife faculty: Félice Lê-Scherban, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology, Allison Groves, PhD, assistant professor of community health and prevention, Alex Ezeh, PhD, professor of Global Health, and Lucy Robinson PhD, associate teaching professor of biostatistics. Funding also covers tuition, stipend, and other educational expenses.

Gebrekristos is a research fellow in the department of Community Health and Prevention, and this academic year she is also a Global Alliance for Training in Health Equity Research Program (GATHER) Trainee at DSPH. Her research has been published in several public health journals, and she has presented her work globally.