Overview: ACES, LLC plans to work with PPLM to expand on their strategic plan to reduce sexual and reproductive health inequities, especially with respect to people of color in Massachusetts. Approximately 1.1 million people are living with HIV today in the United States, with about 15% unaware they are even infected. In Massachusetts, between 2007 and 2016 the number of individuals living with HIV infection increased by 23%. Black and Hispanic/Latino individuals were diagnosed with HIV ten and six times more respectively when compared to White (non-Hispanic) populations. Developing a plan to ensure equitable access to sexual and reproductive health care and education in Massachusetts will be developed closely with PPLM input.
Dr. Ndidiamaka Amutah-Onukagha PhD, MPH, CHES, President and Founder of Amaka Consulting and Evaluation Services (ACES) LLC has had a commitment to health disparities, health equity research and evaluation began before she formally knew what the interdisciplinary field was called. As a Nigerian-American woman, she is reminded daily of the inequities experienced by women of color. Thus, by virtue of her previous life experiences she believes she has always viewed inequity through the lens of a social epidemiologist interested in the social determinants of health. She is fueled by an interest in inequitable life trajectories and outcomes as minority groups of people experience them. These life experiences have shaped her research and evaluation career and training to date and have undoubtedly deepened her interest in research and evaluation pertaining to the health of people from marginalized backgrounds. She is fueled by an interest in inequitable life trajectories and outcomes as minority groups of people experience them.
Rachel Augustin, MPH (Senior Research Associate)– Ms. Augustin is a public health research and evaluation professional whose career focus was born out of her experiences as a first-generation immigrant. Her public health career was inspired by a 10-year-old Haitian boy with early-onset childhood schizophrenia who participated in research studies she supported between 2001 and 2003. As Ms. Augustin is also Haitian, the researchers asked her to present at the hospital’s grand rounds on optimal strategies clinicians could use to engage patients possessing non-western views of mental health. Her presentation—Health Beliefs and Approaches to Care in Haitian Immigrant Communities in the United States—illuminated how culture influences health beliefs and patient compliance with care. Ms. Augustin obtained an MPH in Health Policy in 2005 from the George Washington University and is enrolled in a doctoral program at the Dornsife School of Public Health at Drexel University. Ms. Augustin is interested in understanding how the fundamental causes of health inequities such as education and neighborhood composition, influence health outcomes and what effective behavioral health interventions could be derived, particularly for individuals with serious mental illness and/or with co-occurring physical health illness and/or substance abuse. As a core member of the ACES team, Rachel has worked on a number of evaluation projects including a project that focused on campus sexual assault, an evaluation of a group prenatal care program, and an evaluation of an HIV and health equity focused program.
Jacqueline Gifuni- Koutsouris, MPH, CHES (Research Associate) has had continued involvement with ACES which has led her to work with several large, not-for-profit organizations. Since 2015, Jacqueline has been a Research Associate for ACES, and has been directly involved in several evaluations including Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait for both the March of Dimes and March of Dimes New Jersey Chapter. The evaluation team provided an analysis of the qualitative data findings from key informant interviews conducted as part of the March of Dimes Healthy Babies are Worth the Wait program with three of the eleven states that are a part of the program. For the New Jersey Chapter, the evaluation team assessed the program’s multi-level, multi-intervention approach in reducing the disparity in preterm birth between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites in Burlington County, NJ. Data for this evaluation was collected through a variety of methods across three years, including county level birth data, staff interviews, patient focus groups, and program outcomes. For both evaluations, Jacqueline was the lead for scheduling interviews, focus groups, and routinely collecting data from key March of Dimes staff. She also transcribed, coded and analyzed qualitative data, as well as conducted literature reviews and state specific research relevant to final reporting.
Ms. Gifuni-Koutsouris identifies strongly with her Hispanic heritage and knows firsthand the struggles faced by low-income and immigrant families. Having been raised by a parent whose primary language is Spanish, she has helped her family members navigate the ever-changing intricacies of social services, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Social Security Income and Medicare/Medicaid. These life experiences allow her to understand and connect with many of the research populations she evaluates, and their social barriers to healthcare. In 2015, Jacqueline became the first in her family to receive a Masters degree in Public Health, as well as a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES). Her research interests include health equity and health disparities, reproductive health, and infant mortality.
Monica Rodriguez, MPH (Research Associate) holds a Master of Public Health in Community Health Education and a certificate in Program Evaluation, both from Montclair State University. Additionally, she is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) and the recipient of 2017 Montclair State University Public Health Leadership Award. She currently serves as a Research Assistant providing evaluation data for three grants that aim to improve educational outcomes of low-income, Hispanic, and underprepared students through various evidence-based activities. Since 2018, Monica has served as a Research Associate for ACES, evaluating the progress of 3 federal grantees of the American Public Health Association (APHA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) campus violence prevention programs. Through in-depth phone interviews with the grantees and qualitative analysis, she compiled the findings into a comprehensive report for the funders. Monica was born in New York and spent her early years living in the Bronx and Puerto Rico. Her family moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey, a wealthy, predominantly Caucasian town, when she was 8 years old and where she grew up until going to college. Being one of the few Hispanic females in town for several years, highlighted her otherness daily. The mindset she acquired led her to study public health as she sought to understand how the world works to change the health of society members. Monica’s experience coming into a community she was not familiar with but slowly understanding and becoming a member of the field of evaluation allows her to do the same in evaluation work. It takes patience, cultural humility, and positivity to be able to effectively, objectively evaluate programs.
Ayomide Omotola, MPH (Research Assistant). Ms. Omotola is a public health professional who was born and raised in one of the research institutes that pioneered treatment of HIV/AIDs in Nigeria. Her experience volunteering in the labs and clinics informed her decision to pursue a career in public health.
In her 5 years of public health work, she has gained experience on several projects aimed at strengthening healthcare systems, improving access
to health care and invariably health outcomes. She worked on DFID funded nutrition projects and has managed implementation and evaluation of nutrition interventions aimed at children under 5 years old in Nigeria. She also managed the implementation of a systems strengthening intervention to improve pregnancy outcomes of teen parents at a safety net hospital in Boston; as well as an intervention focused on improving access to maternity homes in Zambia. She is a current member of the Tulumbe project which aims to tackle issues fueling HIV inequalities among African immigrants – women, men, youth and families – living with or at high risk for HIV in the US.
Ms. Omotola is passionate about reducing health inequities by improving maternal & child health outcomes and contributing to innovation in health care especially for vulnerable populations. She is particularly interested in addressing these poor health outcomes through bench-to-bedside research, quality improvement methodologies and working directly with affected communities to develop sustainable interventions.
Ms. Dramé is a research assistant on a global infectious diseases project where she primarily works on quantitative data analysis. She graduated from Boston University School of Public health where she received a Master of Public Health in epidemiology and biostatistics, with a concentration in infectious diseases. During the completion of her MPH, she travelled to Senegal, West Africa where she was involved in studies focused on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis uptake and HIV among people who participate in injection drug use. Previously, she volunteered at testing clinics in Milwaukee, WI where she administered HIV tests, counseling and also held workshops on sexual health for young adults. She has interests in reproductive health, infectious diseases, global health, and working with underserved communities.