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Lumen Scholar studies HIV and maternal care in South Africa

In South Africa, where a third of women of childbearing age live with HIV/AIDS, midwives and nurses are the vanguard of care for infected mothers. Elon senior Lauren Taylor, the final student to be featured in a series of E-net profiles on the inaugural class of Lumen Scholars, examined the views of these medical providers, and she plans to share her findings at the 2010 International AIDS Conference.

Elon senior Lauren Taylor with her Lumen Prize mentor, associate professor Cindy Fair.

Taylor, a senior international women's health major, has studied nurses, nursing students and midwives in South Africa, using surveys to document HIV-related knowledge and attitudes toward those living with the disease. She also sought to examine their working conditions and opinions on how to best improve HIV-related maternal care.

The native of Rochester, N.Y., believes her work is a prime area of study for researchers, if for no other reason than the lack of scholarly information she found in her travels.

“The research that’s available tends to focus exclusively on mother-to-child transmission,” she said. “That’s great, but it centers really only on the child, and not on the health of the mother. Reducing the chance of mother-to-child transmission is very important. However, the care of women cannot be forgotten.”

Her results, she says, reveal relatively high levels of knowledge of HIV and low levels of prejudice towards people with HIV. Answers to open-ended questions exposed that about 10 percent of survey respondents held prejudicial attitudes towards HIV-infected people in contrast to their answers on the standardized measure.

Combined with other feedback from midwives, nurses and nursing students, Taylor’s research paints a better picture of what health care workers believe is needed from their government to help combat the HIV among women of reproductive age.

The Elon College Fellow and Periclean Scholar noted that maternal care providers say increased community education on HIV and more government intervention on community level is appropriate.

Other findings were more alarming, she said. Of the 249 participating providers, approximately 10 percent suggested punitive measures, including reproductive limitations on women infected with HIV such as forced sterilizations and obligatory identification of HIV status.

Claims by some respondents that they harbor no prejudice toward their HIV-infected patients also stood in contrast to observations Taylor made in prenatal clinics where sick women were asked to wait in separate rooms or were treated poorly by medical staff.

She hopes to share her work in July with South Africa’s health minister during the AIDS conference in Vienna, Austria.

Reasons for this behavior are many. The most prominent being the lingering effects of apartheid and subsequent power struggles between classes. However, Taylor said, that shouldn’t prohibit care providers from sharing important information.

“Any medical professional should be able to educate a mother on how HIV is spread from mother to child,” Taylor said, “and there’s a medication that can be administered during labor that would help prevent the transmission.”

Cynthia Fair, an associate professor of human services, served as Taylor’s Lumen mentor. With previous research into the stigma of AIDS and HIV in the United States, Fair helped guide her student’s research methodology and work.

“Lauren is one of the most courageous and driven students I have ever known,” Fair said. “She is deeply committed to improving the human condition through her research as well as through her desire to become a physician focused on providing care to women in developing countries.

Lauren’s research could ultimately inform policies related to the working conditions of maternal care workers in South Africa as well as influence the quality of care received by South African women living with HIV.

The Lumen Prize, awarded for the first time in 2008, provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements.

Lumen Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects. Efforts include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development, and creative productions and performances.

The name for the Lumen Prize comes from Elon’s historic motto, “Numen Lumen,” Latin words for “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

Taylor’s immediate plan following Commencement this month is to enroll in a yearlong master’s program in London, before returning to the United States for medical school.

“There’s a good case to be made that a new measure needs to be developed for Sub-Saharan countries to assess the HIV-related knowledge of health care professionals,” Taylor said. “What I hope to do with my master’s is develop that model and test it.”

Using data from the Lumen research, Taylor and Fair have had an abstract accepted at the International AIDS Conference, and the team is awaiting word on other submissions to the American Public Health Association and the African Journal of Reproductive Health.

They also plan to write two other articles focused on different aspects of Taylor’s research. One will be submitted to the Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health and the other to the Journal of AIDS Nursing.

"Thanks to the Lumen Prize, I've been able to have a broader perspective on women's health, " said Taylor, who hopes to work as an obstetrician and gynecologist in a developing country. “None of this would have happened without the Lumen.”


- Written by Robert Wohner ’11 and Eric Townsend, Office of University Relations



Eric Townsend,
11/9/2011 8:50 AM