Helping HIV+ Women

When women with HIV/AIDS are also recovering from substance abuse, they can find it especially difficult to comply with prescribed treatments for the infection. "And if you're not compliant with HIV treatment 90 to 95 percent of the time," says professor Victoria Mitrani, Ph.D., "you may actually be doing yourself harm-by allowing the virus to mutate and build resistance to the medication."

In an effort to help such women, Mitrani, a clinical psychologist, is coleading two five-year NIH-funded studies with Daniel Feaster, Ph.D., an associate professor of public health at Florida International University. The first, a randomized clinical trial, evaluates a family-oriented therapeutic approach known as SET (Structural Ecosystems Therapy) in comparison with group sessions that offer education and support to HIV-positive women.

"HIV-positive women recovering from drug abuse are often members or even leaders of large households," Mitrani explains. "The idea behind SET [which was developed by Mitrani and colleagues at the UM Center for Family Studies] is that if you help the family work better as a system, you can help the woman better manage her treatment and drug recovery.

"We want to help families improve their ability to work through their problems and support each other." A closely related companion study enrolls the SET subjects' family members so that their well-being, too, can be evaluated. In all, more than 500 women and family members will take part in the studies.

"When we're done," Mitrani says, "I think we'll have some very compelling results."