At the Bronx Prevention Center, one of ICAP’s New York City-based clinical research hubs for HIV prevention, Jawindy Swengbe plays a starring role as a community outreach assistant. With a background in health education and health services administration, Jawindy has been part of the team since 2016, supporting the clinical trials conducted at the center.
Outgoing and knowledgeable, Jawindy is second-to-none when it comes to connecting with individuals in the community who might be appropriate to participate in a research study. Based on each clinical trials’ requirements, Jawindy and his colleagues spend a lot of time thinking about how to reach specific groups in the community, including identifying where they may gather on a regular basis.
“Our job is to strategize and see how we can engage the community to figure out what they need to know about HIV and how they can be part of our studies,” said Swengbe. “We attend health fairs, community partners’ events, pride events, and visit LGBTQ+ friendly bars to share information about current and upcoming studies. To make it fun, we hand out promotional items—such as branded shirts or bags—to draw community members in and start a conversation.”
Once these conversations begin and community members learn more about Bronx Prevention Center, they tend to become part of the fabric that makes it a community-centered research organization.
The relationship is a two-way street. Members of the community are important for the research the center conducts—research that often leads to lifesaving new tools. At the same time, their involvement also provides an opportunity for the staff to share up-to-date information on HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention and treatment options.
In addition to conducting individual outreach, the center also engages with its Community Advisory Board (CAB) for their inputs and feedback on existing and upcoming studies. The CAB is made up of various community-based partners, including local non-profit organizations, health centers, and local leaders.
“We utilize our CAB for many different purposes…such as proposing a new name for a project to see how the community would respond to it or sharing details of a new study and asking how to best get buy-in from community stakeholders,” said Swengbe.
Another key consideration for effective community outreach is to create an environment where community members can share their personal and medical history at the center without facing stigma and discrimination.
“Here at the Bronx Prevention Center, we provide excellent customer service to our community. Because our community in the South Bronx is small, our strong reputation often travels through word of mouth.” said Swengbe. “We make our centers feel very home-like and inviting. Our staff is extremely diverse, and we have counselors and nurses that look like and can relate to the communities which we serve.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of New York City residents over the past four months, the center’s usual approach to community engagement has required a major shift.
“COVID-19 has really changed the way we do outreach work. Not being able to go out to hospitals, health fairs, or community events has made it more difficult, but we have been able to build on the foundation of work we have done before to spread the word about our new and existing studies, and continue to recruit participants for them,“ said Swengbe.
Currently, the center is actively conducting five clinical trials, including three to assess new HIV prevention methods, one to study the effects of COVID-19 on individuals who have recovered from the virus, and an upcoming trial assessing the efficacy of several new COVID-19 vaccines.
Reflecting on the past few months, Swengbe is optimistic that the Bronx Prevention Center will continue to grow and expand in its work on HIV and address emerging public health issues beyond HIV.
“In the future, I see us expanding and getting lots of new studies—even beyond HIV,” said Swengbe. “We are proud of our ability to consistently reach out to our communities to participate in our studies. It just shows that when we work together, the greatness that can come out of our work.”
A global health leader since 2003, ICAP was founded at Columbia University with one overarching goal: to improve the health of families and communities. Together with its partners—ministries of health, large multilaterals, health care providers, and patients—ICAP strives for a world where health is available to all. To date, ICAP has addressed major public health challenges and the needs of local health systems through 6,000 sites across more than 30 countries.