Marya Gwadz

Marya Gwadz


Senior Research Scientist

1 212 992 7147

433 First Avenue
Room 748
New York, NY 10010
United States

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Professional overview

Dr. Gwadz is a licensed clinical psychologist, a Senior Research Scientist, and the Director of the Transdisciplinary Research Methods Core in the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR, P30 DA011041; Sherry Deren, PhD, and Holly Hagan, PhD, Co-PIs). Her research focuses mainly on identifying approaches to increase health equity among African American/Black and Hispanic populations. Dr. Gwadz has been leading intervention trials for over two decades, with an emphasis on studies to address HIV- and drug use-related health disparities in urban populations of color, and among women. She has a particular interest in creating culturally appropriate, cost-effective, scalable, and reproducible intervention programs, including studies using adaptive designs and the Multiphase Optimization STrategy (MOST). She also leads a program of research with vulnerable adolescent populations, including runaway and homeless youth.

PhD in clinical psychology(1998) - NYU Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Infectious disease
Women's health
Substance use
Professional membership
American Public Health Association

Critical race theory as a tool for understanding poor engagement along the HIV care continuum among African American/Black and Hispanic persons living with HIV in the United States: a qualitative exploration.

Freeman, R., Gwadz, M. V., Silverman, E., Kutnick, A., Leonard, N. R., Ritchie, A. S., … Martinez, B. Y. (2017). International journal for equity in health 16, (54). 10.1186/s12939-017-0549-3

African American/Black and Hispanic persons living with HIV (AABH-PLWH) in the U.S. evidence insufficient engagement in HIV care and low uptake of HIV antiretroviral therapy, leading to suboptimal clinical outcomes. The present qualitative study used critical race theory, and incorporated intersectionality theory, to understand AABH-PLWH's perspectives on the mechanisms by which structural racism; that is, the macro-level systems that reinforce inequities among racial/ethnic groups, influence health decisions and behaviors.

It's a Process: Reactions to HIV Diagnosis and Engagement in HIV Care among High-Risk Heterosexuals.

Kutnick, A. H., Gwadz, M. V., Cleland, C. M., Leonard, N. R., Freeman, R., Ritchie, A. S., … (2017). Frontiers in public health 5, (100). 10.3389/fpubh.2017.00100

After HIV diagnosis, heterosexuals in high-poverty urban areas evidence delays in linkage to care and antiretroviral therapy initiation compared to other groups. Yet barriers to/facilitators of HIV care among these high-risk heterosexuals are understudied. Under the theory of triadic influence, putative barriers to HIV care engagement include individual/attitudinal-level (e.g., fear, medical distrust), social-level (e.g., stigma), and structural-level influences (e.g., poor access). Participants were African-American/Black and Hispanic adults found newly diagnosed with HIV (N = 25) as part of a community-based HIV testing study with heterosexuals in a high-poverty, high-HIV-incidence urban area. A sequential explanatory mixed-methods design was used. We described linkage to HIV care and clinical outcomes [CD4 counts, viral load (VL) levels] over 1 year, and then addressed qualitative research questions about the experience of receiving a new HIV diagnosis, its effects on timely engagement in HIV care, and other barriers and facilitators. Participants were assessed five times, receiving a structured interview battery, laboratory tests, data extraction from the medical record, a post-test counseling session, and in-person/phone contacts to foster linkage to care. Participants were randomly selected for qualitative interviews (N = 15/25) that were recorded and transcribed, then analyzed using systematic content analysis. Participants were 50 years old, on average (SD = 7.2 years), mostly male (80%), primarily African-American/Black (88%), and low socioeconomic status. At the first follow-up, rates of engagement in care were high (78%), but viral suppression was modest (39%). Rates improved by the final follow-up (96% engaged, 62% virally suppressed). Two-thirds (69%) were adequately retained in care over 1 year. Qualitative results revealed multi-faceted responses to receiving an HIV diagnosis. Problems accepting and internalizing one's HIV status were common. Reaching acceptance of one's HIV-infected status was frequently a protracted and circuitous process, but acceptance is vital for engagement in HIV care. Fear of stigma and loss of important relationships were potent barriers to acceptance. Thus, partially as a result of difficulties accepting HIV status, delays in achieving an undetectable VL are common in this population, with serious potential negative consequences for individual and public health. Interventions to foster acceptance of HIV status are needed.

Public Health Benefit of Peer-Referral Strategies for Detecting Undiagnosed HIV Infection Among High-Risk Heterosexuals in New York City.

Gwadz, M., Cleland, C. M., Perlman, D. C., Hagan, H., Jenness, S. M., Leonard, N. R., … Kutnick, A. (2017). Journal of acquired immune deficiency syndromes (1999) 74, (499-507). 10.1097/QAI.0000000000001257

Identifying undiagnosed HIV infection is necessary for the elimination of HIV transmission in the United States. The present study evaluated the efficacy of 3 community-based approaches for uncovering undiagnosed HIV among heterosexuals at high-risk (HHR), who are mainly African American/Black and Hispanic. Heterosexuals comprise 24% of newly reported HIV infections in the United States, but experience complex multilevel barriers to HIV testing. We recruited African American/Black and Hispanic HHR in a discrete urban area with both elevated HIV prevalence and poverty rates. Approaches tested were (1) respondent-driven sampling (RDS) and confidential HIV testing in 2 sessions (n = 3116); (2) RDS and anonymous HIV testing in one session (n = 498); and (3) venue-based sampling (VBS) and HIV testing in a single session (n = 403). The main outcome was newly diagnosed HIV infection. RDS with anonymous testing and one session reached HHR with less HIV testing experience and more risk factors than the other approaches. Furthermore, RDS with anonymous (4.0%) and confidential (1.0%) testing yielded significantly higher rates of newly diagnosed HIV than VBS (0.3%). Thus peer-referral approaches were more efficacious than VBS for uncovering HHR with undiagnosed HIV, particularly a single-session/anonymous strategy, and have a vital role to play in efforts to eliminate HIV transmission.

Understanding organizations for runaway and homeless youth: A multi-setting quantitative study of their characteristics and effects

Gwadz, M.V., Cleland, C.M., Leonard, N.R., Bolas, J., Ritchie, A.S., Tabac, L., … Powlovich, J. (2017). Children and Youth Services Review 73, (398-410). 10.1016/j.childyouth.2017.01.016 Elsevier BV.

Using the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST) to optimize an HIV care continuum intervention for vulnerable populations: a study protocol.

Gwadz, M. V., Collins, L. M., Cleland, C. M., Leonard, N. R., Wilton, L., Gandhi, M., … Ritchie, A. S. (2017). BMC public health 17, (383). 10.1186/s12889-017-4279-7

More than half of persons living with HIV (PLWH) in the United States are insufficiently engaged in HIV primary care and not taking antiretroviral therapy (ART), mainly African Americans/Blacks and Hispanics. In the proposed project, a potent and innovative research methodology, the multiphase optimization strategy (MOST), will be employed to develop a highly efficacious, efficient, scalable, and cost-effective intervention to increase engagement along the HIV care continuum. Whereas randomized controlled trials are valuable for evaluating the efficacy of multi-component interventions as a package, they are not designed to evaluate which specific components contribute to efficacy. MOST, a pioneering, engineering-inspired framework, addresses this problem through highly efficient randomized experimentation to assess the performance of individual intervention components and their interactions. We propose to use MOST to engineer an intervention to increase engagement along the HIV care continuum for African American/Black and Hispanic PLWH not well engaged in care and not taking ART. Further, the intervention will be optimized for cost-effectiveness. A similar set of multi-level factors impede both HIV care and ART initiation for African American/Black and Hispanic PLWH, primary among them individual- (e.g., substance use, distrust, fear), social- (e.g., stigma), and structural-level barriers (e.g., difficulties accessing ancillary services). Guided by a multi-level social cognitive theory, and using the motivational interviewing approach, the study will evaluate five distinct culturally based intervention components (i.e., counseling sessions, pre-adherence preparation, support groups, peer mentorship, and patient navigation), each designed to address a specific barrier to HIV care and ART initiation. These components are well-grounded in the empirical literature and were found acceptable, feasible, and promising with respect to efficacy in a preliminary study.

Exploring How Substance Use Impedes Engagement along the HIV Care Continuum: A Qualitative Study.

Gwadz, M., de Guzman, R., Freeman, R., Kutnick, A., Silverman, E., Leonard, N. R., … Honig, S. (2016). Frontiers in public health 4, (62). 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00062

Drug use is associated with low uptake of HIV antiretroviral therapy (ART), an under-studied step in the HIV care continuum, and insufficient engagement in HIV primary care. However, the specific underlying mechanisms by which drug use impedes these HIV health outcomes are poorly understood. The present qualitative study addresses this gap in the literature, focusing on African-American/Black and Hispanic persons living with HIV (PLWH) who had delayed, declined, or discontinued ART and who also were generally poorly engaged in health care. Participants (N = 37) were purposively sampled from a larger study for maximum variation on HIV indices. They engaged in 1-2 h audio-recorded in-depth semi-structured interviews on HIV histories guided by a multilevel social-cognitive theory. Transcripts were analyzed using a systematic content analysis approach. Consistent with the existing literature, heavy substance use, but not casual or social use, impeded ART uptake, mainly by undermining confidence in medication management abilities and triggering depression. The confluence of African-American/Black or Hispanic race/ethnicity, poverty, and drug use was associated with high levels of perceived stigma and inferior treatment in health-care settings compared to their peers. Furthermore, providers were described as frequently assuming participants were selling their medications to buy drugs, which strained provider-patient relationships. High levels of medical distrust, common in this population, created fears of ART and of negative interactions between street drugs and ART, but participants could not easily discuss this concern with health-care providers. Barriers to ART initiation and HIV care were embedded in other structural- and social-level challenges, which disproportionately affect low-income African-American/Black and Hispanic PLWH (e.g., homelessness, violence). Yet, HIV management was cyclical. In collaboration with trusted providers and ancillary staff, participants commonly reduced substance use and initiated or reinitiated ART. The present study highlights a number of addressable barriers to ART initiation and engagement in HIV care for this vulnerable population, as well as gaps in current practice and potential junctures for intervention efforts.

Factors Associated with Recent HIV Testing among Heterosexuals at High Risk for HIV Infection in New York City.

Gwadz, M., Cleland, C. M., Kutnick, A., Leonard, N. R., Ritchie, A. S., Lynch, L., … Martinez, B. (2016). Frontiers in public health 4, (76). 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00076

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends persons at high risk for HIV infection in the United States receive annual HIV testing to foster early HIV diagnosis and timely linkage to health care. Heterosexuals make up a significant proportion of incident HIV infections (>25%) but test for HIV less frequently than those in other risk categories. Yet factors that promote or impede annual HIV testing among heterosexuals are poorly understood. The present study examines individual/attitudinal-, social-, and structural-level factors associated with past-year HIV testing among heterosexuals at high risk for HIV.

Behavioral intervention improves treatment outcomes among HIV-infected individuals who have delayed, declined, or discontinued antiretroviral therapy: a randomized controlled trial of a novel intervention.

Gwadz, M., Cleland, C. M., Applegate, E., Belkin, M., Gandhi, M., Salomon, N., … (2015). AIDS and behavior 19, (1801-17). 10.1007/s10461-015-1054-6

Nationally up to 60 % of persons living with HIV are neither taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) nor well engaged in HIV care, mainly racial/ethnic minorities. This study examined a new culturally targeted multi-component intervention to address emotional, attitudinal, and social/structural barriers to ART initiation and HIV care. Participants (N = 95) were African American/Black and Latino adults with CD4 < 500 cells/mm(3) not taking ART, randomized 1:1 to intervention or control arms, the latter receiving treatment as usual. Primary endpoints were adherence, evaluated via ART concentrations in hair samples, and HIV viral load suppression. The intervention was feasible and acceptable. Eight months post-baseline, intervention participants tended to be more likely to evidence "good" (that is, 7 days/week) adherence (60 vs. 26.7 %; p = 0.087; OR = 3.95), and had lower viral load levels than controls (t(22) = 2.29, p = 0.032; OR = 5.20), both large effect sizes. This highly promising intervention merits further study.