Njeri Kagotho, Ph.D., examines how social policy can bolster the wealth and health of Kenyan families affected by HIV.

kenyaby Bonnie Eissner

It is often said that you can’t buy health or happiness. But, according to Njeri Kagotho, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Adelphi’s School of Social Work, there is “an incontestable link between a family’s wealth and the physical and mental well-being of its members.” Understanding this so-called health-wealth nexus and identifying social policies that preserve it are at the core of her research initiatives.

In particular, she is studying HIV-impacted households in Kenya. As of 2013, 6 percent of Kenyans between the ages of 15 and 49 were living with an HIV diagnosis. Between 1 million and 1.3 million Kenyan children are AIDS orphans, having lost one or both parents to the disease.

In a 2012 study funded by an Adelphi Faculty Development grant, Dr. Kagotho found that those living with HIV in Kenya’s Kiambu County were highly susceptible to wealth loss. In essence, women and low-income individuals with HIV were at risk of having assets, such as household valuables and land, taken away by relatives following the death of the primary breadwinner or head of household.

Now, as one of four research scholars selected to participate in the HIV Intervention Science Training Program (HISTP) for promising new investigators from underrepresented groups, Dr. Kagotho is designing a follow-up study. Housed at Columbia University School of Social Work and funded by the National Institutes of Health, HISTP seeks to diversify the pool of scientists studying HIV in underserved populations.

With guidance from her HISTP mentors, who include Adelphi School of Social Work Professor Subadra Panchanadeswaran, Ph.D., Dr. Kagotho is preparing to collaborate with interventionists working in grassroots organizations in Kenya to learn whether they have witnessed the wealth loss that she documented and, if so, to find out how they are addressing it. Her intention, she said, is to identify “innovative programs that could stop this or address this particular issue.” Dr. Kagotho’s ultimate goal is to find interventions that can translate into scalable, sustainable social policies that will preserve the wealth and well-being of those living with HIV and their families.

This piece appeared in the 2015 issue of Erudition.

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