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In the Caribbean region, the Dominican Republic has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, and is significantly more prevalent in and around tourist destinations than in other areas of the country.
To understand the factors linking tourism and HIV infection, Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, associate professor of social work at Columbia University, was awarded a $400,000 grant this past September from the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA) to analyze the relationship between alcohol use and HIV in Sosua, a beachfront town on the island nation's northern coast that attracts tourists from around the world, particularly Europe. The NIAA is part of the National Institutes of Health.
A number of studies have connected the growth of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Caribbean to tourism and alcohol use. Data suggests that adult per-capita consumption in the Dominican Republic has increased over the past 50 years, according to Guilamo-Ramos, who explains that transnational alcohol companies have invested heavily in developing countries with active tourism industries. Today, major tourism destinations in the Dominican Republic are characterized by an array of nightclubs, bars, restaurants, and liquor stores that facilitate the consumption of alcohol, which often lead to lower inhibition and risky behaviors.
"This study moves beyond research focusing exclusively on the characteristics of presumably distinct risk populations to focus instead on identifying the features of venues that are salient in creating a synergy between alcohol use and HIV risk in tourism areas," said Guilamo-Ramos, who is working with Mark Padilla, assistant professor at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health, to conduct the study. "In doing so, we hope to develop targeted, culturally appropriate, applied public health interventions for alcohol users."
Dominicans represent the fourth largest Latino community in the United States and have strong ties to both their country of origin and to the U.S.
"Research related to the HIV epidemic and other health and social issues in the Dominican Republic is, therefore, of great importance to New York City and the larger United States context," said Guilamo-Ramos.
Guilamo-Ramos and Padilla will work with a team of Dominicans, including Professor Yoanis Ferreira Rodríguez of the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo Recinto Puerto Plata, to understand the synergy between alcohol use and HIV-risk in tourism areas. The team will use research methods that include ethnographic mapping, participant observation of alcohol venues, in-depth interviews and surveys. The information obtained from the study will be used to develop a culturally appropriate, HIV-prevention intervention for alcohol users who reside in the Dominican Republic.
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