Opening the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health's newest research center, dedicated to the mission of improving the health and social well-being of sexual and gender minorities, would be a challenging task at any time. For Dr. Matthew Mimiaga, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health professor of epidemiology, founding, organizing, and leading the new UCLA Center for LGBTQ+ Advocacy, Research & Health (C-LARAH), which officially opened its doors in December of 2020, opening the center in the middle of a global pandemic was just part of the job.
“COVID-19 has definitely made every task we’ve accomplished, in terms of organizing, research, and student and community service, more demanding, but what better time than now?” said Mimiaga, who serves as director of C-LARAH. “This is the time for academic institutions to bolster the progress made by the LGBTQ+ movement; we must bridge health, research, and training measures to reduce inequities and close the health disparity gap … and ‘challenging times’ certainly help focus on what is important.”
By any standard, the team of faculty, staff, and students led by Mimiaga, who also serves as a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, has met and exceeded those challenges. In 12 months, even as they worked through the day-to-day needs of organizing the center, the team has:
- Published 38 new scientific journal publications and five book chapters, which can be reviewed here. The findings were published in journals that include The Lancet, The Lancet Global Health, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, AIDS and Behavior, Journal of the International AIDS Society, Journal of AIDS, and AIDS;
- Collaborated with 37 UCLA graduate students, affiliated post-doctoral researchers, and staff, along with 20 faculty affiliates;
- Received nearly $8.6 million in federal research funding from five different U.S. National Institutes of Health entities in FY 2021 (>$50 million for all project years for current grants combined); and
- Built a website for the new center that spotlights C-LARAH’s research program.
In 2020-21, C-LARAH’s research has focused on improving health disparities and health equity among LGBTQ+ communities, including epidemiological cohort studies; developing and testing interventions to decrease sexual risk in HIV primary and secondary prevention; and biobehavioral interventions to enhance uptake and adherence for both HIV treatment (ART) and prevention (PrEP/PEP). The team has also researched psychosocial treatments for stimulant use disorder and concurrent HIV risk, and opioid use disorder and adherence to medication-assisted treatment; infectious disease and psychiatric epidemiology; and global health research within several resource constrained countries.
In addition to research in the United States, C-LARAH has ongoing global public health research globally focused on HIV primary and secondary prevention. Currently, these include projects in Brazil, India, Nigeria, and Vietnam; and recently completed projects in Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and Zambia.
“I’m very proud of the team we’ve assembled, including our UCLA staff, students, and faculty-affiliates and our research partners in the U.S. and globally,” Mimiaga said. “And I am very excited about the impact C-LARAH has had and will continue to have in training future generations of scientists interested in conducting LGBTQ+ public health and clinical research, and ensuring that all sexual and gender minorities can live openly and authentically, and be healthy.”