The Social Science Training and Research (STAR) Partnership, funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, represented a collaboration between Columbia University social scientists with expertise in HIV and leading Vietnamese researchers. The STAR Partnership created linkages between the Department of Sociomedical Sciences (SMS) at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and the Center for AIDS Research and Training at Hanoi Medical University (HMU).
The goals of this project were to:
- Provide training in the design and implementation of policy-relevant social science research to Hanoi Medical University faculty and advanced students, as well as to promising researchers from the broader Vietnamese HIV community;
- Draw on and complement intensive training workshops by collaborating with two independent research organizations, the Institute for Social Development Studies (ISDS) and the Center for Community Research on Health and Development (CCRD), to provide hands-on research opportunities for trainees in three pilot studies on the Social Organization of Masculinity and Sexual Risk, the Social Impact of Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) and The Politics of Harm Reduction in Vietnam;
- Contribute to the institutional development of the Faculty of Public Health at Hanoi Medical University; and
- Maximize the STAR Partnership’s impact on policy and research by strengthening ties between HMU and the broader Vietnamese HIV research and policy community.
Our collaboration with one of Vietnam’s leading NGOs and its most prominent cultural institutions exemplified our innovative approach to social science. In 2010 the STAR Partnership, the Centre for Community Health Research and Development (CCRD), and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME), launched "Pain and Hope - 20 years of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam," an exhibit marking the 20th anniversary of the first case of AIDS in Vietnam – a project that constituted one of the STAR Partnership’s most innovative contributions. By incorporating social science research, community-based collaborative production of original documentary footage, and Vietnamese material culture, the STAR Partnership helped create a public exhibit through which the meaning of HIV/AIDS can be opened to public dialogue and perhaps help reduce the heavily stigmatized representations in Vietnam.
As the first museum exhibit to focus on HIV in Vietnam, “Pain and Hope” was selected by the Vietnam Administration for AIDS Control as one of ten key events to commemorate the 2010 milestone. The STAR Partnership implemented an evaluation to assess the exhibit’s impact on HIV stigma, which provided an opportunity for mentored research experience for STAR trainees.
The Role of STAR
The STAR Partnership responded to the growing awareness that social scientists could be more effectively trained to communicate the relevance and significance of their findings. A key innovation involved the articulation of a theory-based model of policy-relevant research and our inclusion of policy translation as a fundamental aspect of engaged research. The impact of the intervention research that has been so common in Vietnam is limited not just because of the relative ineffectiveness of the interventions at influencing individual behavior, but because the scale of the epidemic demands research that leverages the practice of public health in order to shape health on a broad scale.
Policy-relevant social science involves research designed to generate findings of a level at which they can shape multi-sectoral policy and lead to population-level interventions to promote health. The STAR Partnership sought to develop expertise not only in knowledge creation, but also in knowledge-brokerage. This emphasis on policy-relevant social science enhanced the impact of the Partnership’s pilot research and, even beyond that, offered the potential to develop a model of translation-related training that could be widely disseminated to improve the reach and impact of social science globally.
Key Achievements of STAR I
Pain and Hope: 20 Years of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam
This exhibit was the first-ever HIV-focused museum exhibition in Vietnam and was made possible through a partnership between STAR I, the Center for Community Health Research and Development (CCRD), and the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology (VME). The initial work was funded by STAR, with additional support from the Ford Foundation.
The exhibit ran from November 2010 to December 2011, and was an officially designated event commemorating the 20th anniversary of HIV/AIDS in Vietnam. It drew hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors and gathered over 2000 handwritten comments by visitors after just two months. It was mentioned in ten television programs and over one hundred national and international news articles. HIV center postdoctoral fellow Dr. Devaki Nambiar led an impact evaluation after the exhibit, which documented and analyzed the impact of this powerful exhibition.
Publications and Presentations
Social and Policy Dimensions of AIDS in Vietnam in Global Public Health (Vol 8, Supplement 1, September 2013)
Global Public Health Supplement, Health Systems Research in Vietnam (forthcoming)
Special issue of Journal of Family and Gender Studies (Vol 22, Issue 6, 2012)
Gender, Sexuality and Health Monograph Series published by Vietnamese NGO Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population
Satellite session on social science and HIV at the 4th Vietnamese National Scientific Conference on HIV/AIDS in 2010