December 4, 2012

As the first U.S.–Mexico Drug Abuse Prevention Research Fellow, Argentina Servin, M.D., says she feels very responsible for learning everything possible during the fellowship and applying her knowledge in her home country. She works with commercial sex workers (CSWs), injection drug users (IDUs), and their children to break the cycle of drug use and sex-for-drugs that contributes to the HIV epidemic in northern Mexico. “Even my colleagues working in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez are astonished at the number of young people affected by CSW/IDU parents and environments,” Dr. Servin said. “It’s very important to make sure people know that behind the statistics are real individuals.”

For her fellowship, Dr. Servin is conducting secondary data analysis on a NIDA-funded project (R01DA023877) studying HIV risks in Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Her analysis will identify factors independently associated with CSWs/IDUs living with dependent children or having a family member who was a sex worker. Dr. Servin will explore the role of familial factors in the nature and timing of entry to sex work, sexual violence, and current sexual and drug-related risk behaviors and HIV infection among female sex workers whose parents engaged in sex work. Dr. Servin’s mentors are Steffanie Strathdee, Ph.D., and Jay G. Silverman, Ph.D., University of California San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine.

Dr. Strathdee, who is associate dean of Global Health Sciences, Harold Simon Professor, and chief of the Division of Global Public Health in the UCSD School of Medicine Department of Medicine, says, “Dr. Servin’s research exploring intergenerational drug use and sex work in the Mexico–U.S. border region is a topic of immense importance if we are to prevent children from repeating the same vicious circle their parents—and sometimes their grandparents—fell into.”

Dr. Servin was trained as a clinician. In addition to her research projects and class work at UCSD, she is using the fellowship to develop her prevention research skills, improve her writing, sharpen her English, and learn how to submit competitive grant applications. She is definitely succeeding:

  • Dr. Servin defended her thesis for a master’s degree in public health in July.
  • She has published two articles (in the Journal of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care and AIDS Care) and has submitted a third article.
  • Dr. Servin is the Mexican principal investigator on a seed grant funded through Dr. Strathdee’s AIDS International Training and Research Program (AITRP) grant (D43TW008633-03) to build sustainable research capacity for primary and secondary prevention of HIV, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted infections in the Mexico–U.S. border region.

The Fellowship also is proving invaluable for Dr. Servin’s networking and professional development. “At UCSD, I am working with experts in multidisciplinary approaches to drug abuse research,” Dr. Servin said. “These are the people I used to Google because they are such leaders in the field, and now they share their insights with me, offering complete, well-rounded ideas whenever I ask for help with my research.” Through her fellowship, Dr. Servin also has made connections with officials at the Central American Centers for Disease Control in Guatemala.

Dr. Servin adds that she is delighted to be part of the next generation of Mexican drug abuse prevention researchers. “Mexico is one of the few low- and middle-income countries that shares a border with a developed country, she said, “and I am very excited that the United States and NIDA are investing in this program. Opportunities to work with these kinds of experts are not always available for researchers in my country, and I encourage other Mexicans to take advantage of the unique U.S.–Mexico Drug Abuse Prevention Research Fellowship.”

The U.S.–Mexico Drug Abuse Prevention Research Fellowship provides 12 months of postdoctoral training in the United States for a Mexican citizen or permanent resident. In addition to conducting mentored prevention research, fellows participate in professional development activities and learn about the U.S. National Institutes of Health grant application process. The fellowship is a collaborative effort of NIDA and the National Institute of Psychiatry Ramón de la Fuente Muñiz in Mexico, along with participation from the National Commission Against Addictions (CONADIC) of Mexico and the Society for Prevention Research. Applications for the fellowship are due April 1, 2013.