Media Releases

Bloomberg researcher named one of Canada’s Rising Stars in Global Health

June 30, 2011

TORONTO, ON — Grand Chal­lenges Cana­da has award­ed Bloomberg assis­tant pro­fes­sor LaRon E. Nel­son a grant through the Cana­da Ris­ing Star in Glob­al Health ini­tia­tive. He is one of only 19 recip­i­ents across Cana­da and will use the award to fund research to help pre­vent the spread of HIV in sub-Saha­ran Africa.

Nel­son has ded­i­cat­ed his research career to the pre­ven­tion of HIV and oth­er sex­u­al­ly trans­mis­si­ble infec­tions among social­ly mar­gin­al­ized groups with­in African and African Dias­po­ra com­mu­ni­ties, includ­ing teenage par­ents and men who have sex with men (MSM). This award rec­og­nizes his com­mit­ment and deter­mi­na­tion to take on one of the tough­est, most wor­ri­some glob­al health issues and to save lives. Nelson‘s project, “Kumasi & Accra Project to Pre­vent AIDS (KAPPA): A social net­work-based inter­ven­tion to pre­vent HIV among men who have sex with men,” is aimed at reduc­ing HIV trans­mis­sion in Ghana by using social net­works to reach men most at risk for infec­tion, yet least vis­i­ble and among the most dif­fi­cult to access and engage in HIV pre­ven­tion ser­vices.

“I was very excit­ed to learn that KAPPA was select­ed to receive fund­ing. It was per­fect tim­ing since my col­leagues and I were already work­ing on inter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams, aggres­sive­ly try­ing to iden­ti­fy cul­tur­al­ly ground­ed, mul­ti-lev­el, inte­grat­ed, evi­dence-based inter­ven­tion mod­els to address the inter­sect­ing pre­ven­tion needs of men in African and African Dias­po­ra com­mu­ni­ties,” says Nel­son. “We met with men in Ghana who described mul­ti-lev­el chal­lenges to pre­vent­ing sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted infec­tions among men most-at-risk. For the longest time, the con­dom was the only avail­able bio­med­ical device with pre­ven­tion effi­ca­cy; how­ev­er, new bio­med­ical advances are expand­ing our pre­ven­tion tool kit.”

One of the lat­est advances, pre-expo­sure pro­phy­lax­is (PrEP), involves HIV neg­a­tive peo­ple at high risk for infec­tion tak­ing anti­retro­vi­ral med­ica­tion dai­ly to low­er their chances of becom­ing infect­ed with HIV if they are exposed to it. Through this study, Nel­son and his team hope to dis­cov­er the most cul­tur­al­ly appro­pri­ate strate­gies for har­ness­ing social/sexual net­works to facil­i­tate the uptake of behav­iour­al and bio­med­ical inter­ven­tions, such as PrEP, with­in the con­text of a mul­ti-lev­el pre­ven­tion strat­e­gy for MSM. It’s being devel­oped in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ghana’s pub­lic health offi­cials and com­mu­ni­ty.

The Cana­da Ris­ing Star in Glob­al Health program’s goal is to “sup­port the devel­op­ment of excep­tion­al emerg­ing Cana­di­an sci­en­tists who have the poten­tial to be world lead­ers in glob­al health.” Each of the 19 inno­va­tors select­ed from across the coun­try receive a grant of $100,000. Cana­da is the first coun­try in the world to adopt a grand chal­lenges approach to for­eign aid.

If the KAPPA mod­el proves fea­si­ble, Nel­son will be eli­gi­ble for addi­tion­al grant fund­ing to scale-up the inter­ven­tion in Ghana’s two largest cities: Accra and Kumasi. He would con­tin­ue work­ing close­ly with lead­ers in Ghana to imple­ment the med­ical and pub­lic health poli­cies nec­es­sary to eval­u­ate KAPPA’s effec­tive­ness for pre­vent­ing HIV and its eco­nom­ic fea­si­bil­i­ty of being local­ly sus­tained once the study has con­clud­ed.

In addi­tion to a writ­ten pro­pos­al, Nel­son devel­oped a two-minute video pre­sen­ta­tion of his idea, fur­ther demon­strat­ing his cre­ativ­i­ty and inno­va­tion. The video can be viewed on the Grand Chal­lenges Cana­da web­site or YouTube.

Grand Chal­lenges Cana­da is fund­ed by the Gov­ern­ment of Canada’s Devel­op­ment Inno­va­tion Fund and part of a con­sor­tium with the Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment Research Cen­tre (IDRC) and the Cana­di­an Insti­tutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The Lawrence S. Bloomberg Fac­ul­ty of Nurs­ing at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to ranks among the pre­mier nurs­ing pro­grams in the world in both edu­ca­tion and research. In 2007, ours became the first named fac­ul­ty of nurs­ing in Cana­da. We are com­mit­ted to ensur­ing all the stu­dents in our under­grad­u­ate, mas­ters and PhD pro­grams have the high­est qual­i­ty learn­ing expe­ri­ences. More­over, with a Fac­ul­ty com­prised of the country’s lead­ing nurse researchers and edu­ca­tors, major con­tri­bu­tions to knowl­edge, health pol­i­cy and future prac­tice are pro­duced reg­u­lar­ly.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Sarah Gopaul, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Assis­tant, Lawrence S. Bloomberg Fac­ul­ty of Nurs­ing, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
416.946.3657 or