Project DYNA explores minority health issues

When it comes to health and wellness, Hispanic women are among the most vulnerable populations in the Western Hemisphere.They are especially at risk in the areas of substance abuse, violence, and sexual practices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To understand why and identify effective interventions, School of Nursing and Health Studies Dean Nilda Peragallo, Elias Vasquez, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N., F.A.A.N.P., associate dean for community affairs, and faculty member Rosa Gonzalez, R.N., M.S.N., M.P.H., have launched Estudio DYVA-Drogas y Violencia en las Americas (Project DYVA-Drugs and Violence in the Americas).The study examines substance abuse, interpersonal violence, and risky sexual behaviors among Hispanic women in Miami-Dade County as part of a major, multisite study funded by the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission, a division of the Office of American States (OAS).

"We hope to gain an understanding of the socioeconomic, cultural, behavioral, and environmental factors associated with the incidence of these high-risk practices among this population," says Gonzalez, who's pursuing her doctorate. "Doing so will enable us to develop culturally appropriate primary prevention interventions that target Hispanic women."

Estudio DYVA forms part of an international research collaboration with partners from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Venezuela.The School of Nursing and Health Studies is collecting data for the United States. Findings from the first phase of the study will be evaluated in a cross-country comparison during phase two. In the United States, the study supports the national initiative Healthy People 2010 and the goal to eliminate health disparities among minority populations.

"Learning more about why Hispanic women engage in risky behaviors will assist nurses and other health professionals to provide effective, culturally competent care," says Peragallo, an internationally recognized researcher on HIV/AIDS in Latino women. "This knowledge will also help nurse educators in teaching students to develop individual and population-based interventions targeted toward the needs of this group."

According to Gonzalez, Miami has a higher incidence of substance abuse, violence, and sexually transmitted diseases than other counties in Florida and the U.S.The problem is magnified among women in the Hispanic community.

"Although we will be looking at Hispanic women living in Miami, we anticipate that our findings may be applicable to similar Hispanic groups across the country and in other countries," she says."Our study is just a beginning to understanding why they're disproportionately affected by these health issues and what we can do to address the problem."