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Undergraduate Researchers

Sabah Ghulamali, Gender and Women’s Studies

Reexamining Burden: Describing Children Living with HIV Positive Adults in Kenya

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Susan Short and Dr. Nancy Luke

In 2003, 6.7% of Kenyan adults were HIV positive. With antiretroviral therapy, HIV positive adults are likely to survive longer than previous generations, but will still experience compromised health due to disease progression. Yet, the prevalence of children living with an HIV positive adult has not yet been described. This project analyzed the prevalence of children in Kenya residing in a household with an HIV positive adult across several household covariates, including residential area, wealth percentile, and number of household residents. The data used was from the 2003 Kenyan Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), and the sample consisted of children ages 0-14 who lived in households where adults were voluntarily tested for HIV/AIDS. We found that 6.8% of children live with an HIV positive mother, 6.0% of children live with an HIV positive father, and 9.3% of children live with any HIV positive adult. Children in HIV-affected households are significantly more likely to be wealthy, live in urban areas, and live with fewer people. Overall, this research highlights the importance of altering perspectives to describe youth, particularly children who may be burdened with care-giving responsibilities.

How did you find your research program and project?

I found the Leadership Alliance website through the Office of Undergraduate Education’s website on summer research opportunities. I applied and was accepted for a Summer 2010 program with the Population Studies and Training Center at Brown University in Providence, RI. The program was like a full-time job for nine weeks of summer. I got into the computer lab at nine a.m. and left around five or six p.m.  

Was the Leadership Alliance application difficult to do?

It was not difficult per se, but it was very long. I had to explain all my college experiences thus far, clearly illustrate my research interests, and pick my internship site.

Did you have a choice about the project you worked on at Brown? How did you decide?

After reviewing a number of possible projects with my mentors, I decided on this specific research topic for a number of reasons. Firstly, it was a really exciting project to work on. I really felt like we were breaking new ground by describing who these children were. Secondly, it was a feasible project in the amount of time I had (nine weeks). Thirdly, would be able to challenge myself. I do not normally do quantitative research, so I was learning something new every day.

What was the hardest part about your research? The most unexpected?

The hardest part was learning how to use statistical analysis software! It was definitely a challenge. I was surprised and extremely happy when I realized that the Leadership Alliance was going to provide its interns with so much insight into graduate school. We received practice GRE exams, heard lectures from professors and grad students, and visited other campuses, including Harvard.

Is this your first independent research project?

No. I was a third year Gender and Women’s Studies major at the time of application. I had received an Undergraduate Research Award for a mixed-methods project on student response to UMBC’s resources for sexual assault.

Do you get course credit for the summer research?

No, though I did receive a notation on my transcript.

What was your mentor’s role in your summer research?

I was given the rare opportunity to have two amazing mentors for my summer project. They reviewed my day-to-day work, constructively critiqued my presentation, and offered advice on applying for graduate school. I had space to take my research in the direction I wanted, but they were always there to guide me along.

What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research?

I think some of the most successful student researchers I met are those who believed in their project 100%. It does help to have your heart and soul invested in the issue.

What are your career goals?

I don’t know if I will teach at a university or work only out in the field.

How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

My specific topic—children living with an HIV-positive adult in Kenya—does not directly inform my other classes. However, it provides a global setting in which to contextualize new knowledge. Also, conducting this research project from start to finish meant writing a proposal, getting data, running analyses, conferring with others, making a PowerPoint, and presenting in a conference. All of those skills will come in handy in my other classes.