Committee On Psychology and AIDS (COPA)

Members have been working on a policy resolution titled "Resolution on Combining Biomedical and Behavioral Approaches to Optimize HIV Prevention and Care"

What is COPA?

In August 1990, the Ad Hoc Committee on Psychology and AIDS (COPA) was authorized by the Board of Directors and the Council of Representatives for a 3-year period. Initially, COPA reported to the Board of Directors and was charged with the following responsibilities: 

  • Provide policy direction and oversight for current APA activities related to AIDS. 

  • Advise APA staff and establish liaisons with governance groups regarding AIDS issues. 

  • Formulate new APA initiatives to meet the continually changing challenges posed by the epidemic.

The Council of Representatives reauthorized COPA for an additional 5 years in 1993, 1998, 2004, and 2009. In executive session at its June 2001 meeting, the Board of Directors changed the governance reporting line of COPA from the Board of Directors to the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI).

COPA members serve for 3 years. They are required to attend two face-to-face meetings per year in Washington, DC, and to participate in monthly conference calls. Between meetings, members devote a substantial portion of time to COPA projects, provide consultation to APA Office on AIDS staff and participate in advocacy activities.

What has COPA been doing?

In recent months, members of COPA have been working on the development of an APA policy resolution titled Resolution on Combining Biomedical and Behavioral Approaches to Optimize HIV Prevention and Care.

Interest in the use of biomedical approaches to reduce HIV transmission has been growing steadily over the past 10 years as a result of the increased tolerability and decreased cost of antiretroviral treatment, the ever-expanding range of medication options, and the multiple challenges of scaling up behavioral approaches to HIV prevention. This interest has skyrocketed in recent months with the release of findings from the CAPRISA 004 and iPrEx trials (see pp. 29–30 for additional details).

South African scientists associated with Caprisa, a Durban-based research center, announced in July that women who used a vaginal microbicidal gel containing an antiretroviral medication widely used to treat AIDS — tenofovir — were 39 percent less likely overall to contract HIV than those who used a placebo. Even more impressive, those who most regularly used the gel reduced their chances of infection by 54 percent. In November, scientists associated with the iPrEx (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Initiative) trial revealed that the HIV infection rate in HIV-negative gay men who were given a daily preventative pill containing two HIV drugs (tenofovir plus FTC) was reduced by 44 percent, compared with men given a placebo.

For many, the results from these two recent studies constitute “game-changing” events that suggest the need to prioritize biomedical over behavioral approaches to HIV prevention. Although biomedical approaches to HIV prevention such as “test-link-and-treat strategies” and pre- and postexposure prophylaxis are important tools in an overall strategy for HIV prevention, they should be combined with broad-scale implementation of evidence-based behavioral strategies that have the potential to improve adherence and treatment uptake, increase access to services, decrease costs and reduce stigma and discrimination.

The unfortunate debate over the relative value of biomedical and behavioral approaches to HIV prevention has the potential to substantially affect the funding decisions associated with the implementation of the nation’s first comprehensive plan to address HIV/AIDS. This plan, called the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), was unveiled by President Obama in July 2010.

The resolution currently being developed by members of COPA, in consultation with members of other boards and committees at APA, recommends increased funding for HIV behavioral prevention research and services that include mental health, behavior change, adherence and adoption strategies to optimize the benefit of new biomedical strategies.

COPA members

Scyatta A. A. Wallace, PhDScyatta A. A. Wallace, PhD (COPA Chair), received her PhD in developmental psychology from Fordham University and her BA in psychology from Yale University. She also completed a 2-year postdoctoral research fellowship at the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Her research interests include examining contextual and cultural influences associated with HIV risk among Black adolescents and young adults. Dr. Wallace is currently an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at St. John’s University and is principal investigator on a 4-year study funded by the CDC. The objective of the study is to develop culturally tailored and gender-specific health education materials that promote HIV testing among low-income heterosexual young adult Black men recently released from jail/prison. In addition, she has received funding from NIH and other federal agencies and foundations for her work on substance use and sexual risk among Black youth. Previous honors include receiving a 3-year summer visiting professorship at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco; being named an NIH Health Disparities Scholar (2002–2004); receiving the first Dalmas A. Taylor Summer Policy Fellowship (2000) awarded by the APA; and receiving a Graduate Research Ethics Education Training fellowship from the National Science Foundation (1998–2001). Dr. Wallace is currently on the editorial board of Applied Developmental Science.

Mariana Cherner, PhDMariana Cherner, PhD, graduated with a BA in psychology from Cornell University. She obtained her PhD at the San Diego State University/University of San Diego (SDSU/UCSD) Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology in 1997, specializing in neuropsychology and behavioral medicine. She completed a clinical psychology internship at the University of Washington, where she also received postdoctoral training in neuropsychology. Dr. Cherner is associate professor in residence in the Department of Psychiatry at UCSD and director of the Interdisciplinary Research Fellowship in NeuroAIDS, as well as a faculty member in the SDSU/UCSD Joint Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology. She has an interest in the role of coexisting conditions such as hepatitis C and stimulant drug (methamphetamine, MDMA) abuse in the manifestation of HIV-associated neurocognitive disorders. Her current research focuses on genetically determined individual differences in vulnerability to brain dysfunction among methamphetamine users with HIV. She conducts her work within the UCSD HIV neurobehavioral research programs, where she is an investigator on a number of federally funded grants related to neuroAIDS. The other focus of her research is in the area of cross-cultural neuropsychology, with a special interest in culturally competent assessment of cognitive abilities and everyday functioning in Spanish speakers. She also participates in training and mentoring of predoctoral students and postdoctoral researchers.

Eugene Farber, PhD, ABPPEugene Farber, PhD, ABPP, is an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences in the Emory University School of Medicine. A clinical psychologist, Dr. Farber serves as director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the Grady Health System Infectious Disease Program, which is among the largest HIV/AIDS primary care centers in the United States. The mission of this program is to provide accessible community-based services to underserved individuals who are living with HIV/AIDS. In addition to his administrative and clinical service activities, he is also active in clinical teaching and supervision in the HIV/AIDS mental health arena. Dr. Farber’s research interests and activities focus primarily on factors that influence psychological adaptation to the multiple challenges of living with HIV/AIDS and on clinical outcomes of HIV mental health services provided in community-based primary care settings.

Perry N. Halkitis, PhDPerry N. Halkitis, PhD, is associate dean for research and doctoral studies, professor of applied psychology and public health, and director of the Center for Health, Identity, Behavior, and Prevention Studies at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University. He is internationally recognized for his work examining the intersection of HIV, drug abuse, and mental health. He has led two edited volumes: HIV + Sex: The Psychological and Interpersonal Dynamics of HIV-Seropositive Gay and Bisexual Men’s Relationships (APA, 2005); and Barebacking: Psychosocial and Public Health Perspectives (Haworth Press, 2006). His latest book, Methamphetamine: A Biopsychosocial Perspective, was published by APA in 2009. Author of more than 100 peer-reviewed academic manuscripts, Dr. Halkitis has conducted research that focuses on the application of theory and practice and that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York City Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, the New York State AIDS Institute, the United Way, the New York Community Trust, and the American Psychological Foundation. Dr. Halkitis is the recipient of numerous awards from both professional and community-based organizations and is a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine, the Society of Behavioral Medicine, and the APA.

Marguerita Lightfoot, PhDMarguerita Lightfoot, PhD, received her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and is currently an associate professor of medicine and a codirector of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. Her research interests are adolescents, health, and prevention. She is particularly interested in developing cost-effective interventions that are translatable in community settings and utilize new technologies to engage disenfranchised individuals in health promotion activities. Her work in HIV-prevention has included developing interventions for runaway/homeless youth, adolescents involved in the juvenile justice system and youth living with HIV.

Willo Pequegnat, PhDWillo Pequegnat, PhD, is associate director of the International AIDS Prevention Research in the NIMH Division of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health. She has a range of experience with both national and international HIV/STD prevention research and has expertise in primary and secondary behavioral preventive interventions; stress and coping; psychological, neuropsychological, and physical functioning; and quality of life. Her research involves multilevel social organization and complex relationships: couples, families, communities, societal (media, policy), technological (internet, Web, etc.). She is working on the issue of social instability, such as the consequences of war, terrorism, migration, and female and drug trafficking on HIV/STD transmission. She took the initiative in developing a research program on the role of families in preventing and adapting to HIV/AIDS and chairs the only annual international research conference on families and HIV/AIDS. She coedited the book on this program of research, Working With Families in the Era of AIDS. Dr. Pequegnat initiated and is coeditor of How to Write a Successful Research Grant Application: A Guide for Social and Behavioral Scientists; Community Interventions and AIDS; and From Child Sexual Abuse to Adult Sexual Risk: Trauma, Revictimization, and Intervention. She has developed three special issues of AIDS and one of JAIDS. She plans and implements national and international workshops, conferences and symposia on HIV/STD and represents NIMH on science policymaking committees and workgroups in the public health system on a broad range of HIV/STD issues.