When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorses a public health intervention you developed, you know you’ve done something right.
For Dr. Anonia Villarruel, that “something right” was conducting extensive research to determine the efficacy of ¡Cuídate!, a sexual risk-reduction program for Latino adolescents. The program is one of only several such initiatives to have demonstrated effectiveness for both Spanish and English speakers.
Villarruel, the Nola J. Pender Collegiate Chair and Associate Dean for Research and Global Affairs at the University of Michigan School of Nursing, discussed her research as part of the Siegfried Lowin Visiting Scholar Lecture Series at the East Carolina University College of Nursing on April 8.
Villarruel, who will assume the role of dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in July, said that ¡Cuídate! uses activities such as role-play and group discussion. The program helps adolescents develop knowledge and skills to reduce their risk of STDs, HIV and unplanned pregnancy through strategies such as sexual abstinence and correct condom use.
She tested the intervention with at-risk youth in Philadelphia, with both youth and parents in Mexico, and with parents in a computer-based version of the program. The randomized controlled trials she conducted showed that participating youths had reduced incidence of unprotected sex and increased condom use.
“You have an adult that’s engaged with a student, listening to them, not talking down to them, accepting to them,” she said about the program. “That’s what I think the magic is.”
It was that success that caught the attention of Dr. Kim Larson, associate professor in the ECU Department of Undergraduate Nursing Science. She consulted with Villarruel over the course of several years to bring ¡Cuídate! to eastern North Carolina in 2013. Larson and a team of academic and community partners worked with two public schools to study the program’s efficacy with a new Latino sub-group in a rural region of the southern United States.
“Our pilot study successfully implemented ¡Cuídate! with adolescents of Mexican and Central American origin in a rural, conservative geographic region of the country using a community-based participatory research approach,” Larson said. “This was a pilot study that will provide data for a community-level intervention trial to further advance the research in this area.”
In closing her talk, Villarruel encouraged the audience to consider the policy implications of their research. She also emphasized the importance of communicating research results not just with medical practitioners but also with the public.
“It’s about somebody else taking on that banner and moving it forward to better their community,” she said. “I think that is the work that we are all about.”
The Siegfried Lowin Visiting Scholar Lecture Series is sponsored by the ECU College of Nursing and the Sigma Theta Tau Beta Nu chapter.
The series began in 2007 through the generosity of ECU faculty members Dr. Mary Ann Rose, professor and chair of the department of graduate nursing science, and Dr. Walter Pories, professor and surgery and biochemistry. The couple named the series in memory of Pories’ uncle, who greatly respected the nurses who cared for him throughout an extended illness.
(Pictured from left to right are: Brenda Nuncio, program director at Wayne County Cooperative Extension; Larson; Villarruel; and Dr. Sharon Ballard, chair of the ECU Department of Child Development and Family Relations. Ballard, Larson, Nuncio and two school health nurses who are not pictured made up the research team that implemented ¡Cuídate! in North Carolina.)