Jeremy Steglitz, MPH '11

Iringa, Tanzania

 

My research focused on the mental health and coping strategies of HIV-positive adults in Iringa, Tanzania, particularly the influence of religiosity and spirituality. Iringa has the highest adult prevalence of HIV in Tanzania, with estimates as high as 17 percent. Furthermore, the mental health of people living with HIV in Tanzania is underrepresented in the literature and needs to be better addressed, particularly in light of the evidence that links mental and physical health. We used questionnaires translated from English to the Kiswahili to assess medication adherence, coping strategies, emotional distress, social support, religiosity and spirituality. The primary objectives of the project are: (1) To ascertain whether religious involvement among Tanzanians living with HIV facilitates active coping strategies that enable effective management of the illness; (2) To determine the specific mechanisms (e.g., social support) through which those coping strategies function to affect emotional distress; and (3) To assess medication adherence across varying degrees of religiosity/spirituality. Although this was not my first time in Tanzania (I conducted rural medical triage and HIV/AIDS education and grant writing in the Kilimanjaro region), my research in Iringa was a novel experience. Not only are Tanzania’s various regions unique in and of themselves, but this was my first experience as a primary investigator. I thoroughly embraced the leadership role and increased responsibilities. Contrary to my previous volunteer stints, I felt that the impact of this work would be more enduring and it was uniquely gratifying. More importantly, the study’s participants seemed to relish the opportunity to share a bit of themselves in order to help future generations of HIV-positive Tanzanians; it was their sense of duty and satisfaction that was most gratifying for me.