For nearly two decades, Jude Ssenyonjo has been engaged in public health efforts and community relations. He spent much of this time in his native Uganda, working to reduce sexually transmitted and HIV infections in the country through educational and outreach programs. Ssenyonjo is currently a Ph.D. student in allied health sciences studying health promotion sciences, aiming to continue working on HIV prevention and contribute to better health outcomes through research. Here is what he said in an interview.
Where did you study as an undergraduate?
I studied at Makerere University in Uganda and graduated in 1999.
What was your major?
I majored in sociology and geography.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school?
I graduated at a time when Uganda was facing major public health problems. The prevalence of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, was so high that I was inspired to do something about it. I knew I could make a difference through active engagement in community sensitization and behavioral change communication interventions. I joined an organization that worked under the country’s Ministry of Health STI/AIDS Control Program, which gave me an opportunity to learn on the job. I led coordination of nationwide STI and HIV prevention programs, including condom use promotion. Because my undergraduate major was not in the health field, I felt it was very important for me to get formal skills in health promotion programming. In 2007, I enrolled in a Master of Public Health program at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
After graduating, I returned to Uganda and joined a USAID [United States Agency for International Development] funded health communication program managed under Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs. I had been involved in various public health programs until last year, when I got the desire to broaden my knowledge and contribute to the body of science that leads to achieving better health outcomes and sustainable development goals. I came to UConn and enrolled in the doctoral program in health promotion sciences.
Who is your advisor?
My advisor is Dr. Michael Copenhaver.
What is your field of research?
My field of research is in the area of HIV prevention among at-risk populations, particularly opioid-dependent drug users. I am currently working on a National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded research study that is testing an integrated bio-behavioral primary HIV prevention intervention among high-risk opioid-dependent individuals. The study aims to evaluate the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of the bio-behavioral Community-Friendly Health Recovery Program (CHRP-BB), an intervention program that teaches medication adherence and HIV risk-reduction skills, including demonstrating how to properly clean a syringe. This bio-behavioral approach also incorporates the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a biomedical HIV prevention tool, if taken daily, can reduce risk of HIV infection by over 90 percent.
Name one aspect of your work that you like.
I like contributing towards saving lives of those at high risk of HIV acquisition through building their motivation and self-efficacy to make the right decisions and change behaviors that would expose them to HIV. I have a great opportunity to work on the CHRP research study, working with this great team that is highly skilled, motivated and very supportive. I feel it’s a great opportunity for me to tap into their wealth of knowledge and experience. Everyone in my department, from the head of the department to my advisor and other professors, have been very supportive. This makes me feel I am in the right place.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?
I conducted a systematic review of literature on the association between stigma, willingness and uptake of PrEP among high-risk populations. I presented a poster on the study during the recent CAHNR Graduate Student Research Forum and I’m planning to publish a paper on it.
What do you hope to do once you get your degree?
I would like to continue engaging in HIV prevention research and programming and contribute to the body of knowledge in field of health promotion sciences.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
I have a passion for helping others, which is why I joined the Uganda Scouts Association. As a scout leader, I have been involved in building life skills for the young scouts in Uganda so that they can become independent, innovative and responsible citizens committed to serving our communities. I participated in the 2016 Michigan International Camporee in the Northwoods and it was such a memorable experience. I also love swimming when the weather is good.