Seven years ago, Yan Rivera joined the Harlem Prevention Center as a community outreach assistant to learn more about the latest innovations in the HIV response.
“Prior to joining, I had not been part of any kind of research projects,” said Rivera. “I took on the role mostly out of curiosity and to be part of the outreach team for the STAR and ADAPT studies, two HIV studies, which were going on at the time.”
Rivera has grown rapidly into this work becoming a clinical research coordinator, however, he remains steadfast on the importance of community outreach activities for optimal study outcomes.
“Community engagement is key for our work. A lot of our community members initially shied away from participating in research,” said Rivera. “These are the very same communities that are generally underrepresented in research studies. It is our responsibility to help them understand the purpose of the studies and how their participation supports advancements in their health and the health of their community.”
The best way to get community members interested, Rivera attests, is by creating a welcoming environment and making sure participants fully understand the purpose, objectives, and protocols of ongoing studies.
“We hold several events throughout the year where community members are invited to visit the research site and feel that it is a safe space they can come to. We try to promote a community-based organization-like atmosphere where they can call or drop by with any questions or concerns and we answer them to the best of our ability,” said Rivera.
The Harlem Prevention Center maintains close ties with two nearby organizations that serve LGBTQ+ youth to spread the word about upcoming trials. By holding informational sessions and handing out flyers, many individuals that get services at these organizations have enrolled in the trials and often bring their friends along to participate, as well.
Some of the study participants have not been involved in research studies before, so it is critically important that they are well-informed and aware of their rights as a study participant. Important questions that need to address include—what the data will be used for, how their privacy will be protected, among others.
Contributing to the global COVID-19 pandemic response, the Harlem Prevention Center is involved in two studies to understand the effects of COVID-19 among individuals who have recovered from the virus (HPTN 1901), while preparing for the a COVID-19 candidate vaccine study.
Currently, the Harlem Prevention Center is conducting two different HIV vaccine studies to evaluate how combinations of monoclonal antibodies can prevent HIV in healthy adults (HVTN 130/HPTN 089) and whether broadly neutralizing monoclonal antibodies can reduce infection among men and transgender persons who have sex with men (HVTN 704/HPTN 085).
Over the past few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the way the staff manage their day-to-day work—particularly in how participants are scheduled and screened when visiting the center. An infrared thermometer is used to check their temperature upon arrival along with detailed questions about their health and possible exposure to COVID-19.
The center has also modified its community outreach strategy from in-person events and interactions to reaching community members through online webinars, phone calls, and requesting that current participants spread the word about study recruitments.
In the future, Rivera sees the Harlem Prevention Center continuing its HIV work and expanding its scope to address the emerging public health implications coronaviruses pose across the world.
“The recent events have shed light on how important it is to get ahead of a pandemic and identify any emerging global health threats in the future,” said Rivera. “We have shown how we can quickly adapt to changing information, policies, and protocols in studies.”
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.