Epidemiologist Receives Fulbright Scholarship for HIV Research

Dr. Robert Heimer of the Yale School of Public Health has been selected as a 2009 Fulbright Scholar to study the HIV epidemic in Russia. Every year, one thousand US scholars receive the prestigious Fulbright Grant to conduct research and teach overseas. Heimer’s research project, “Delphi analysis to explore the origins of the HIV epidemic among Russian drug users,” is being conducted at the Kazan State Medical University in Kazan, Russia from March to July 2009.

Approximately 1.1 percent of Russia’s adult population carries the HIV virus, with prevalence doubling since 2001. The sharing of contaminated drug injection equipment is a key driver of the epidemic, with drug use accounting for 65 percent of new HIV cases in 2007. The situation is exac­erbated when unsuspecting infected drug users pass the virus to their sexual partners. Therefore, understanding the HIV epidemic among drug users is a crucial avenue for developing effective treatment and prevention programs.

Heimer’s work focuses on morbidity and mor­tality associated with injection drug use. His past publications include research on syringe exchange programs, cleaning HIV-1 infected syringes, and HIV infections in St. Petersburg and Sub-Saharan Africa. Heimer has had extensive experience study­ing HIV as both director of the Interdisciplinary Research Methods Core at Yale’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS and director of the Yale office of the Connecticut Emerging Infections Program.

In Kazan, Heimer plans to investigate the epidemic through Delphi analysis, a technique that focuses on collaboration and communica­tion between groups of geographically dispersed experts in a given field. The qualitative analysis technique focuses on experts submitting analyses, receiving feedback, and then continuously revis­ing their analyses based on feedback from other experts. Putting together epidemiological data and feedback from diverse experts may result in novel strategies to combat the HIV epidemic, reduce infection rates, and develop treatment programs.