Rainier Masa, PhD, MSW

Lead Researcher Health Core Social Protection Core

Rainier Masa’s research interests focus on the economic and social aspects of health in low-resource communities. He conducts research on the intersection of economic security and health, including HIV prevention and treatment behaviors. As GSDI’s lead researcher for health and social protection cores, Masa develops and evaluates integrated health and economic strengthening interventions that aim to tackle underlying social and economic determinants of poor and adverse health outcomes in low-resource settings. His research combines formative evaluation, to increase understanding of the interaction of economic insecurity and poor health, and experimental and quasi-experimental methods, to identify and alter modifiable causal mechanisms that shape health behavior changes among individuals in resource-limited settings.

His current research focuses on developing and testing economic security interventions as strategies to improve health outcomes of economically poor and high-risk populations in low-resource settings. He is leading a research study, funded by UNC Center for AIDS Research, that aims to examine the feasibility of an asset-based intervention, which combines social and emotional skills development and financial capability, for adolescents living with HIV in Zambia. This feasibility study builds on his earlier work identifying barriers and facilitators of HIV treatment adherence among adolescents living with HIV in Zambia. He is also a co-principal investigator for Siyakha, a nationwide, cluster-randomized experiment that investigates the effectiveness of employability and financial capability programs on the well-being of South African youth, including their food security, sexual risk taking and HIV preventive behaviors.  Additionally, Masa is co-leading innovative intervention research studies in India, Kenya, and the Philippines. Previously, he was the principal investigator for an ancillary study that examined the prevalence and correlates of food security and its association with medication adherence among adults living with HIV in Zambia; and the co-investigator for the larger parent study that investigated the effects of an integrated HIV and livelihood program on economic and health well-being of low-income people living with HIV. Masa was also part of the team that examined effectiveness of economic-strengthening interventions in Ghana and Uganda, in which he focused on  evaluating effects on health outcomes.

Masa’s approach to economic security as a health strategy is shaped by a theoretical framework that recognizes an equally important role of tangible and intangible resources or assets, in addition to knowledge and motivation, on health behavior change, particularly among vulnerable and low-income populations. Masa teaches graduate-level courses on social welfare and poverty policies, asset development practice and policy, and research methods and program evaluation. He also received extensive training in advanced quantitative methodologies, which he uses to generate and improve the rigor of scientific evidence in his areas of interest. His work has been published in various interdisciplinary and social work journals, including African Journal of AIDS Research, Children and Youth Services Review, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, International Journal of Educational Development, Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, Social Science Research, and Social Work in Public Health.