Dr. Will Story, assistant professor of community and behavioral health in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, recently returned from Kenya where he is involved with a study on how spirituality impacts health, specifically around the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.
[PHOTO: Co-investigators Dr. Nema Aluku (second from left) and Dr. Will Story (far right) pose with research assistants after a successful training.]
Kenya has an average HIV prevalence of 6 percent, with about 1.6 million people living with HIV. The western part of the country is the most affected, with one county reporting adult HIV prevalence as high as 27 percent. [NACC, 2014]
Kenya is home to a diverse mix of religions, including Christianity, Islam, and indigenous religions. In many areas, faith-based organizations are the primary sources of medical care.
“Faith-based health facilities are one of the main service providers, especially in rural areas,” says Dr. Story. “There are a lot of doctrinal differences among different denominations. For our study, we’re curious if patients’ options for prevention and treatment of HIV are either expanded or limited based on the way that these facilities are working together or not.”
“I’m providing technical assistance to apply case study methods to look at six different faith-based health facilities in Western Kenya,” says Dr. Story. “We’re interviewing patients and community members, but we’re also talking to health service providers and church leaders to get a better understanding of how they interact and work together.”
The goal of the project is to compare faith-based groups and health facilities in Western Kenya that have been operating in the context of religious competition (i.e., where multiple denominations are offering similar services to the same geographic region) to those that have been operating in the context of religious collaboration (i.e., where multiple denominations work together within the same organizational structure or coordinate the efforts of multiple organizations to serve a geographic region), and examine their impact on HIV prevention and treatment among women and their partners.
The study is funded by a grant from the Nagel Institute awarded to the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi. Story is working with two Kenyan colleagues — Dr. Mary Getui and Dr. Nema Aluku — who are the lead investigators on the project.