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International Health

Alumni spotlight

Caitlin Quinn, MSPH '17

Social and Behavioral Interventions Program, International Health

Caitlin Payne QuinnPlease tell us a little about your current position at the WHO.

Soon after graduation, I started working as a consultant for the World Health Organization (WHO). I am lucky to work with the same HIV testing team from when I completed my internship at WHO in Geneva. My current work builds off of the work I started in my internship, including expanding a quantitative analysis on men testing for HIV. I have also taken on a new project to develop an implementation toolkit for HIV self-testing, which will support future implementation and scale-up of HIVST programs now that WHO guidelines issued a strong recommendation for HIVST to be offered as an additional approach to HIV testing services.

What was your internship like at WHO?

I did a 6-month internship with the Department of HIV/AIDS at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. I worked with the HIV testing team in the final months before the release of the new guidelines on HIV partner notification and HIV self-testing (HIVST) in December 2016. I also worked on a variety of projects that helped me understand how evidence translates to policy, including analyzing HIV testing rates of men in sub-Saharan African countries, conducting policy mapping and tracking new research for HIV self-testing on HIVST.org, preparing activities for World AIDS Day, and assisting the editorial board on a Journal of the International AIDS Society special issue on preventing HIV misdiagnosis.

Where did you complete your MSPH practicum?

I actually did two practicums during the second year of my MSPH. First, I spent the summer in Rakai, Uganda, conducting qualitative research on a HIV partner notification study led by Dr. Caitlin Kennedy. Rakai is a rural district about three hours from the capital city of Kampala. It is an especially interesting place for HIV public health research because it was where the first cases of HIV were detected in the 1980s and residents of Rakai have been participating in one of the longest-running cohort studies on HIV. The Rakai Health Sciences Program (RHSP) manages the Rakai Community Cohort Study (RCCS), operates STD clinics in the region, and conducts many social and behavioral studies related to HIV. I worked closely with the qualitative research department at RHSP throughout my practicum. The evidence from my research in Rakai supported the development of new WHO guidelines recommending assisted HIV partner notification. After wrapping up the project in Uganda, I moved to Geneva for my internship.

Can you briefly describe the HIV partner notification study and its findings? Was this the topic of your master’s thesis?

Yes, the findings from the HIV partner notification project were the topic of my master’s paper. HIV partner notification involves contacting the sexual or drug-injecting partners of people who test HIV positive and trying to link them to HIV testing, treatment, and prevention services. Assisted partner notification approaches incorporate the role of a trained healthcare provider in eliciting and notifying partners of consenting HIV-positive clients. Our project completed 63 in-depth interviews and 6 focus groups with healthcare providers and individuals from high-risk fishing villages and lower-risk mainland communities. Participants were asked for their reactions to three partner notification programs. I was involved with the data collection and analysis of the interview transcripts, and I really felt that the Qualitative Research series at JHSPH prepared me to complete high-quality qualitative work!

I wrote up a scientific manuscript of this research and submitted it for publication after my practicum. In this study, we found that options for partner notification may help expand HIV testing, especially for key populations. Female sex workers and male fishermen from fishing villages on Lake Victoria with high burden of HIV felt that assisted partner notification is acceptable and useful for notifying multiple, casual sexual partners. Participants felt that assistance from a trained healthcare provider may help people overcome the social and economic barriers of disclosing their HIV serostatus. Clinicians felt that there would be challenges associated with implementing assisted partner notification approaches, including limited time, resources, and training. However, HIV counselors were confident that their cadre would have the appropriate training to conduct assisted partner notification and were willing to integrate assisted partner notification services into their duties. Given the recent WHO guidelines recommending assisted partner notification, this study shows promise for future HIV partner notification program implementation.

What are your current research interests?

Right now, I am really inspired by the work being done on HIV testing and prevention. I hope to continue on this path, especially as new innovations are developed and implemented on a larger scale. I am particularly interested in the progress that can be made to prevent HIV in key populations (people who are important to the dynamics of HIV transmission and are essential partners in an effective response to the epidemic).

Do you have any advice for current and future International Health students?

Spend time reflecting on your goals for after graduation—your interests may change during your time at JHSPH, but this is a unique opportunity to propel your career in any direction (and there are so many ways to go in public health!). If you can, get involved with your professor’s research and plan for a practicum (or two!) that builds on your coursework and gives you solid experience to apply for a post-graduation job.