Women’s College Hospital scientist will teach Haitian women to prevent HIV

An innovative program in Haiti, spearheaded by Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI) post-doctoral fellow Carmen Logie, will use solar-powered tablets to teach women about HIV prevention. Recently awarded $100,000 by Grand Challenges Canada, Logie shares the spotlight with 18 of Canada’s most creative innovators, whose work will save lives by tackling pressing global health challenges.

“It’s very exciting to be one of the very few to have been selected, and one of the only social scientists,” says Logie, who works under the supervision of her mentor at Women’s College Research Institute, Dr. Mona Loutfy. “This award will have an enormous impact on women in Haiti.”

Haiti has the highest HIV incidence in the Western Hemisphere, yet since an earthquake ravaged the country in January 2010, the focus has shifted to providing clean drinking water, fighting hunger and sheltering the victims. As the country struggles with poverty, escalating violence and a devastated health-care system, HIV infection rates have soared.

To address this crisis, Logie will base her project in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Léogâne, Haiti, the epicentre of the quake. There, she will use solar-powered tablets programmed with an interactive video to educate women in the camps about HIV prevention.

“The tablets will ask the women questions, and based on their answers, it will respond with information that’s tailored to their knowledge level,” explains Logie.

The innovative technology will also gather information about the women’s HIV knowledge, communication skills and assertiveness. With that insight, Logie will design information sessions tailored to the women’s needs. The sessions will be run by eight of the women in the camp, who will be trained as community health workers to educate another 200 of their peers.

“Women need to be able to communicate with their partners about safe sex, and assert themselves,” says Logie, noting that many are still traumatized by the aftermath of the earthquake.

Finally, in collaboration with Dr. Carol Ann Daniel at the NEGES Foundation, a Haitian not-for-profit organization, Logie’s program will direct the women to opportunities to join a peanut butter co-operative where they can earn a living, learn business skills and gain access to literacy training.

To test whether the program works, the 200 women will repeat the interactive tablet test. Logie hopes their responses will show that they are better equipped to prevent HIV infection – a result that would make Logie’s program eligible for a scale-up grant of $1 million.

“It’s exciting because we’ll actually build capacity in Haiti,” says Logie, who credits her inspiration in part to another mentor, Dr. Peter A. Newman at the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto.

“We’ll be training women about HIV, but also training them to be health workers and educators. And then we’ll teach them how to train other health workers.”