Divya Balaji

Divya Balaji (JE ’14) is from New Delhi, India, majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is focused on combatting social stigma in the realm of treatment access and emphasizing the importance of mental health-related comorbidities in the treatment of behavioral diseases like HIV. Divya spent the summer of 2013 working with female injection drug users in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She conducted her self-designed research project that sought to understand the barriers to de-addiction treatment access for women who use drugs. This was inspired by her commitment towards ensuring equality of health access and her experience with gender-related stigmas when growing-up in India. Divya has worked on the conservation of biodiversity in the Western Ghats of India, and in Costa Rica. Divya likes to play Rugby and is a member of the Yale Women’s Rugby Football Club and the Yale Global Health and AIDS coalition. She also likes to hike and enjoys photography.

  • Understanding barriers to treatment access facing female drug users

    Dar es Salaam

    Divya spent the summer of 2013 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She executed her independent research project seeking to understand the barriers to treatment access that female drug users (injection and non-injection) face. The HIV incidence among Persons Who Inject Drugs (PWID) in Dar es Salaam is around 42% (Nieburg and Carty, 2011). Among men who inject drugs, the prevalence rate is 28% but among female injection drug users, it is as high as 62% (Williams et al, 2009). Methadone Assisted Therapy is a comprehensive evidence-based treatment for opioid dependence and is offered free of cost in two centers in Dar es Salaam. However, despite extensive outreach attempts, the number in treatment among female drug users is dismally low. Divya identified women who use heroin and administered a standardized questionnaire to all of them. In the process, she learnt Kiswahili. She managed to find more than 200 female heroin users as a part of her sample size, and presented her findings in the ‘First African Conference on Key Populations in HIV’. She hopes to further her work in understanding such programmatic barriers and in implementing comprehensive solutions to guarantee the right to treatment to the most stigmatized populations

Jonathan Edwards
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology