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Rainier Masa, PhD, MSW

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, stigma, and health, including HIV prevention and treatment behaviors. As GSDI’s lead researcher, Masa leads the center’s work on health and economic strengthening interventions that aim to tackle underlying social and economic determinants of 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 understanding and remediating the mechanisms that link poverty and stigma to adverse health outcomes of economically poor and vulnerable populations in low-resource settings. He also develops, validates, and evaluates economic strengthening interventions as strategies to improve health outcomes of adolescents and young adults in low-resource settings. Masa is leading a research study, funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (R21 MD016356), that explores the role of intersectional stigma and resilience in improving HIV testing and PrEP uptake. He also led the feasibility study of an asset-based intervention, which combines social and emotional skills development and financial capability, for young people living with HIV in Zambia (P30 AI050410). This feasibility study builds on his earlier work identifying barriers and facilitators of HIV treatment adherence among young people living with HIV in Zambia. He was also a co-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. Likewise, he has published extensively on assets and positive youth development, food (access) security and youth development, social and economic determinants of HIV prevention and treatment in low-resource settings. 

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 has received multiple excellence in teaching awards from UNC School of Social Work. His work has been published in various interdisciplinary and social work journals, including African Journal of AIDS Research, American Journal of Men’s Health, Children and Youth Services Review, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, Food and Nutrition Bulletin, Food Security, International Journal of Public Health, Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, Journal of Transport & Health, Public Health Nutrition, and Youth & Society.

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