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Student Profiles: Amy Conroy

HBS Student Asks how Gender and Power Influence HIV Prevention in Malawi


Conducting qualitative interviews in rural villages, Malawi

Amy Conroy is currently a PhD candidate in the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences (HBS) where she is working on her dissertation entitled “Gender, Relationship Power, and HIV Testing in Rural Malawi.”

Upon completion of her Masters in Public Health from the Colorado School of Public Health, Amy decided that she wanted to focus her attention more on the research side of public health, specifically, HIV prevention programs in Africa. After considering several doctoral programs across the country, she chose HBS because she wanted a gain a well-rounded background in research methods and theory from many different perspectives. HIV is a complicated disease and preventing the spread of disease will require a collaborative effort across various disciplines including sociology, public health, demography, and psychology.  Sub-Saharan Africa has been particularly overwhelmed by the disease.

In Malawi, a small African country and the site of Amy's research, around 12% of all adults are HIV positive and women are now more likely to be infected than men.  HIV testing is an important prevention strategy thought to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa, but programs have not been as effective as public health experts would like. Recent research from Africa suggests that interpersonal factors such as power within couples may play a role. In 2009, she traveled to Malawi to find out.  Amy received the Robinson Durst scholarship through the UC Denver Center for Global Health and the Henry David Research Grant through the American Psychological Foundation to conduct a small pilot study on couple power dynamics and HIV testing.

Power is a difficult concept to understand and measure across cultures and thus the overall goal of the study was to develop a new way to capture power dynamics within married couples and premarital partnerships. Amy has presented the results of her study at several conferences, including the American Public Health Association (APHA) and the Population Association of America (PAA). 

For her dissertation, Amy will use the measure of relationship power to determine if power dynamics influence whether couples get tested for HIV and, if tested, whether they openly disclose their HIV test results to each other. She received a two-year, pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Institute for Mental Health to conduct her dissertation research. In the fall of 2011, she will be traveling with her family to rural Malawi to conduct group interviews with young men and women in order to provide a rich context for the quantitative findings. She hopes that the results of this project will provide new understandings of gender and power dynamics so that more effective interventions can be tailored to the specific needs of couples in rural Africa.