The African Studies Center at U-M has a deep commitment to fostering collaborative research and scholarship in Africa, and with its scholars. As part of this commitment, ASC runs a seed grant program aimed at supporting burgeoning projects jointly undertaken by U-M scholars and colleagues at universities, museums, think tanks, or other institutions of knowledge production in Africa. Every year, a number of seed grants are awarded through one or more of ASC’s three disciplinary initiatives, with the explicit aim of supporting their work and of fostering and developing academic ties to African scholars and institutions over the long term. To highlight this crucial part of ASC’s mission, we will be publishing short vignettes that follow up on the work of past seed grant recipients. This vignette focuses on the work of Elizabeth King, an associate professor of health behavior and health education at the University of Michigan, and her colleague Samrawit Solomon from St. Paul Millennium Medical College in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The seed grant awarded to King and Solomon enabled their research on female sex workers' HIV susceptibility in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They sought to understand why there is currently an uptick of HIV in certain populations within Ethiopia, despite the country’s overall downward trend. Specifically, their work investigates this increase among women involved in sex work in Addis Ababa and the ways in which their HIV prevalence relates to issues such as migration and urbanization within the city.

The team, including student intern Shelbi Lisecki (Masters of Public Health program), collected data in the summer of 2018. As part of their data collection, the researchers worked with a local NGO, Hiwot, to conduct a survey assessing HIV susceptibility in relation to urban migration; this allowed them to further understand important factors that correlate with testing and self-reported HIV status. Using a mixed-method approach to data collection, King and Solomon also looked at work safety issues, as violence and HIV risk affects many women, especially those in sex work. Through open-ended questions, the survey unpacked interesting findings that complement their quantitative work.

So far, the seed grant research has resulted in two distinct, yet interrelated papers. King notes that there are specific vulnerabilities “among certain women who come from certain areas,” which are compounded by residential access, which in turn determines access to healthcare centers, and social capital, and affects social stigma. Geography and divergent access to social services emerged as an important factor determining susceptibility to HIV treatment, which is an important finding to the researchers seeking to improve sexual reproductive health among Ethiopian sex workers specifically.

King also discussed the importance of the seed grant to her future research on the topic. The pilot study “made possible a lot of learning, and different work styles” that will contribute to “the development of interventions, and decreasing vulnerabilities.” King’s collaborative approach, working with Ethiopian scholars and NGOs, has also helped facilitate the close involvement of U-M students. For example, Lisecki was able to present some study results on behalf of the team at the American Public Health Association’s annual conference last year. ASC is proud to support this important, multi-faceted research that promises to bring long-standing interventions to assist the understanding and prevention of HIV susceptibility among Ethiopian women.