Volume 3.5 | August 1, 2019
Southern Illinois University School of Medicine's Population Science and Policy (PSP) is excited to bring you The Pioneer Pulse, a monthly supplement to our larger quarterly newsletter, The Pioneer .
HIV in Rural Areas
The Rural Health Information Hub (a great site for information, opportunities and resources on rural health) notes that rural communities have unique social, environmental and economic factors that may cause barriers and challenges that complicate HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention. Stigma, lack of anonymity and lack of awareness of the prevalence of HIV may hinder treatment and prevention efforts. Furthermore, physical isolation, low population density and persistent poverty are also identified as barriers for treating or stopping the spread of HIV in rural areas. In short, HIV – like many health issues – must be treated differently in rural areas than in urban areas.

Alexander County, in rural southern Illinois, has one of the highest HIV rates in the state (rating third behind more urban Cook and St. Clair counties) according to data from 2010-2017. To help reduce that rate in Alexander and surrounding counties, the Department of Population Science and Policy has been working on an important project in the Illinois Delta Region to increase availability of Truvada for PrEP, a once-daily medication that can prevent people at high risk from acquiring HIV. While it is an important medication in the fight against HIV, accessing it can be difficult because of a shortage of providers, insurance coverage, and cost, to name a few – and these barriers are only more common in rural areas.

By providing medication to high-risk individuals, this program may decrease the spread of HIV in an area with a general lack of easily accessible medical care and a disproportionately high rate of HIV.

If you want to learn more about the program, please contact Dr. Wiley Jenkins at [email protected] for more information.
PSP Spotlight: Christofer Rodriguez, MPH, CHES
The Department of Population Science and Policy is fortunate to have a multidisciplinary staff to design projects and research to improve population health. Christofer Rodriguez , MPH, CHES is a Research Project Coordinator and his expertise in public health and cancer research adds a valuable component to PSP's efforts.
Why did you choose to work at PSP?
I was introduced to PSP's Epidemiology and Biostatistics Division Chief Wiley Jenkins by a professor in my Master’s program at the University of San Francisco. I had similar research interests and started as an intern under Dr. Jenkins. I later applied for and secured a full-time position in PSP that started immediately after my internship ended.

What are your research priorities?
Some of my research priorities include sexually transmitted infections, HIV/AIDS (including HIV PrEP), mental health, and opioids and substance abuse.

What is your background?
I joined the US Navy right out of high school and was first stationed on the USS Kitty Hawk in Yokosuka, Japan. I spent a year and a half on that ship, where I traveled to South Korea, Hong Kong, Guam, and Australia. I spent some time in the aviation fuels department, where I learned about checking and maintaining fuel levels and refueling aircraft. I then moved into a division that worked directly with the Air Boss, who was in charge of all inbound and outbound aircraft. I then chose to attend advanced training for Hospital Corpsman, which is the medical field for the Navy, and then attended pharmacy technician school. I was in the Navy for about nine years, with duty stations in Guam, Kuwait, and San Diego. My favorite experience was my last deployment to the southeast pacific to provide humanitarian aid to Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia. This deployment is what introduced me to the field of public health, which sparked my interest.

What are your research goals?
I’m currently focused on increasing the body of research among health education and reducing sexually transmitted infections and HIV transmission. I’m also interested in learning more about mental health disparities in individuals who have recently been diagnosed with HIV and how those individuals utilize mental health resources (and/or the lack of resources available) and how this affects health outcomes.   

What has been your best/most significant experience at PSP?
I would say the most significant experience is to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with everyone I have worked with and to help guide the type of work that we do now and look to do in the future.
PSP Publications
PSP Research Assistant Professor Nicole Summers and PSP Chair Dr. Sameer Vohra are co-authors of " The Promise of Precision Population Health: Reducing Health Disparities Through a Community Partnership Framework ," which was recently published in the Advances in Pediatrics Journal.

PSP Chair Dr. Vohra and PSP Senior Research Project Coordinator Amanda Fogleman contributed to an article titled " Pediatric Population Health Analysis of Southern and Central Illinois Region: A Cross Sectional Retrospective Study Using Association Rule Mining and Multiple Logic Regression " published in Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine.

Congrats to Nicole, Amanda and Sameer!

(Left column from top to bottom: Nicole Summers, Sameer Vohra, Amanda Fogleman)
Sharing our Work
Anne Scheer , PSP Assistant Professor, will be busy in August as she presents her work at two conferences. She will be at the Illinois Rural Health Association ’s 30 th Annual Education Conference in Champaign, Illinois, on August 7 to present her qualitative study findings about what rural kids think about healthy eating. Then, she will present “Innovating from Within: Sociological Perspectives on Childhood Obesity in the Medical Field” at The American Sociological Association ’s 114 th Annual Meeting in New York on August 12.
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