Social Intervention Group | SIG

Columbia School of Social Work

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History of SIG

In 1990, a group of investigators and research staff at the Columbia University School of Social Work received funding for an important, new project to develop and test an intervention focused on HIV transmission and drug abuse. At this time, the Social Intervention Group (SIG) was officially established to address the growing need for research on HIV and relapse prevention with vulnerable populations.

From 1990 to 1997, SIG participated in Project LIGHT (Living in Good Health Together), the first and largest multisite HIV behavioral intervention study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Through collaboration on this multisite trial, SIG built relationships with prominent researchers across the country and gained expertise in conducting clinical trials. During this time, SIG also tested two HIV/relapse prevention interventions—one among drug-using incarcerated women and one among men and women in methadone treatment program—and began a study examining the influence of social networks on risk behavior.

Findings from these early SIG projects were reported in numerous articles and presented at national and international conferences, inspiring the next generation of studies conducted from 1994 to 2003. During this time, two core areas of research emerged: (1) HIV prevention intervention research with couples and (2) epidemiological research on the co-occurrence of HIV, intimate partner violence (IPV), and substance abuse. Motivated by the observed limitations of individual-based approaches, SIG launched Project Connect, a randomized clinical trial that tested the efficacy of an HIV/STI prevention intervention with low-income couples recruited from a primary care facility in the Bronx. This subsequently led to two more studies with couples: Project Eban, an NIMH-funded multisite intervention that tested the efficacy of a couple intervention to reduce risk of HIV/STI transmission between African American HIV mixed-status couples, and Connect Two, an intervention trial funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), testing the efficacy of couple HIV/STI intervention with men and women in drug treatment and their primary heterosexual intimate partners. In response to high rates of IPV documented in earlier studies, SIG conducted two epidemiological studies examining IPV in the context of HIV risk and substance abuse. The findings from these epidemiological studies have been used to design integrated interventions that address these co-occurring problems among women and men. Several interventions that were developed and proven to be efficacious by SIG have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be translated and disseminated for testing in community-based settings.

In the next generation of studies, SIG is pursuing translation and dissemination of their evidence-based interventions to get them effectively into the hands of community-based organizations that directly serve those who need them most, both domestically and internationally. SIG will also be pursuing health services research within significant venues, like criminal justice settings, to examine access and utilization of services and to address systemic gaps in effective service delivery. 

SIG continues to grow in size and capacity, strengthening their commitment to the original mission of advancing research on intervention and prevention of HIV, substance abuse, and IPV among highly vulnerable populations, placing particular emphasis on the co-occurrence of these issues. SIG continues to pursue innovation, new frontiers, and collaborations to best achieve this mission.