In observance of the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day on December 1, 2018, we are highlighting the work of CHER faculty member, Dr. Kristan Elwell:
Kristan Elwell, Ph.D. has dedicated many years of her career conducting research on access to HIV/AIDS treatment. As a doctoral student at Michigan State University, Elwell worked with HIV-positive women in Malawi to identify social and structural factors affecting their access to health care programs and services to prevent mother to child transmission (MTCT).
Now, as an assistant research professor at NAU and CHER, Elwell is collaborating with the Navajo Nation Department of Health (NDOH) to adapt existing HIV/AIDS and substance abuse prevention curriculum with the goal of making it culturally-tailored for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders in the Navajo school system – an opportunity for which Elwell says she is “excited.”
The curriculum being adapted stems from the Native American Prevention Project Against AIDS and Substance Abuse (NAPPASA) which was originally designed in the early 1990’s as a peer education tool. Understanding that adolescents experience significant psychosocial pressures, the curriculum applies public health theories to cultivate individual and community resilience against HIV/AIDS, alcohol, and drug abuse. The original NAPPASA project was developed by CHER director Julie Baldwin and her colleagues at the John Hopkins School of Public Health.
Joining this endeavor under the mentorship of Elwell are NAU graduate students, Lyle Becenti and Grant Sears, who are both enrolled in NAU’s new Masters of Public Health program and work as graduate research assistants at CHER. Becenti is in the program’s Indigenous Health track and Sears is in the Health Promotions track.
“For the last six months, we have been meeting with a dedicated team of health professionals from the Health Education and HIV Prevention Program and Division of Behavioral and Mental Health Services within NDOH,” Elwell said, “Together, we have revised the curriculum for local and cultural relevance and developmental appropriateness.”
On the Navajo Nation, there are few HIV/AIDS prevention services which are accessible to youth. The CHER team is working alongside Philene Herrera, program manager for the Navajo Health Education Program, and her program’s health educators, in hopes that by contributing their collective knowledge and expertise, their efforts will culminate into a bolstering of health services and education that will allow Navajo youth to develop health promotion and prevention skills to improve and protect their overall health.
CHER asked Grant Sears and Lyle Becenti what they have learned while working as part of the NAPPASA research team:
Grant Sears: I am fortunate to work with such a lovely team of people both at the Center for Health Equity Research and the Navajo Nation Department of Health. It is challenging and gratifying to adapt the NAPPASA curriculum, and I feel honored to contribute to such a project.
Lyle Becenti: Since working with NAPPASA, I’ve learned more about AOD (alcohol and other drugs), HIV/AIDS, and STI (sexually transmitted infections) prevention. Throughout the project, I understand prevention is an effort to reduce community problems and an important tool for the healthcare field. I believe my knowledge of prevention and knowing how to revise a curriculum for the youth on the Navajo Nation are essential for my goal to attend medical school. Being a member of NAPPASA enhanced my abilities as a health professional and helped me differentiate between the biomedical health model and holistic health model. In other words, I am capable of understanding health beyond the biomedical surface because of NAPPASA.