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Frequently Asked Questions

August 2001

What does "SMART" stand for?

"SMART" stands for "Sharing Medical Adherence Responsibilities Together." This acronym refers to the project's goal of developing better understandings of how mixed HIV status couples can work together to help keep the HIV positive partner on top of his/her treatments, in addition to protecting the health of both partners in the relationship.

Why should we participate in the SMART Couples Project?

Participants in the SMART Couples Project will help researchers learn valuable new insights, including what makes it easier or more difficult for people with HIV/AIDS to keep up with their treatments, and the role that support from a relationship partner can play in these matters. Participating couples will also have a chance to enter a program that aims to help them deal with medical and HIV-related issues together, including sexual intimacy and the safety and risks involved. Further, participants receive payments for each study appointment, and an eligible couple can collectively earn $250 or more over the course of the study.

Can individuals participate, or does it have to be couples?

The SMART Couples Project is designed specifically for the participation of both members of mixed HIV status couples. If one partner is hesitant, we will be glad to answer any questions he or she may have and may be able to help clarify whether the project might be helpful. We might also be able to provide a referral to another organization for just one partner.

Can couples in which both partners are HIV positive or both are HIV negative participate?

At this time, we are only able to offer the study and program to couples in which one partner is HIV positive and the other is HIV negative. We do, however, hope to be able to offer resources to other types of couples in the future.

Is any new HIV testing required or provided?

No new testing for HIV status is required or provided. All we ask is that both partners have been tested for HIV in the past, and that their most recent tests showed that one partner is HIV positive and the other partner is HIV negative.

Where did the idea for the project come from?

The study grows from years of experience by clinical psychologists who provide counseling to people with HIV, as well as from previous research studies of couples of mixed HIV status. Most importantly, the study was designed to respond to the expressed need and desire for this type of program from mixed status couples themselves. Mixed status couples advised and informed the development of this program.

Why do participants in the study complete interviews?

Participation in several research interviews is an important part of the project. The information obtained during these interviews will provide valuable data for doctors, psychologists, social workers, policymakers, and others who have mixed-status couples as clients. By completing interviews, couples are able to make a significant contribution to other people in their situation. The interviews also help us understand what works in the newly-developed program that is being tested, so that we can revise and modify it for future use.

What are the goals of the program that is being tested in this study?

The program that is being tested within this research study aims to help HIV positive individuals stay on top of their medical treatment by fostering support through the couple's relationship. It also aims to help the couple learn new skills and knowledge that will help them protect one another's health, including mutual protection from HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases. All couples in this study will continue to receive the regular medical care and services that they currently access; however, about half of the participating couples will be randomly assigned to additionally take part in the newly-developed program.

What does the program involve?

The program is designed to offer help to mixed-status couples who want to work on protecting one another's health. Those couples who are randomly assigned to take part in the program will attend four private sessions with a Nurse Practitioner. Each session lasts about 45 minutes, and the four sessions are held over a period of five weeks. The Nurse Practitioner will hold series of discussions and exercises with the couple to help improve communication and problem solving strategies regarding health-related issues, developing better understandings of medications and medical treatments for HIV/AIDS, and building confidence for achieving and maintaining improved adherence to treatments. The program also addresses sexual risk taking and preventing transmission of HIV to the HIV negative partner in the relationship.

Who sponsors the SMART Couples Project?

The SMART Couples Project is jointly sponsored by the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, and the Center for Comprehensive Care at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

What has already been learned about mixed HIV status couples?

A great deal has been learned about the challenges facing couples of mixed HIV status in a number of areas, including: how couples can maintain a sex life that is safe but also satisfying; how couples can develop support networks; how the needs of both the HIV negative partner and the HIV positive partner can be met; and many other issues. These findings have been published in various professional journals and presented at HIV/AIDS-related conferences.

How do we contact the SMART Couples Project?

The best way to learn more about the SMART Couples Project or to see if you are eligible for the study is to call the project at 212-740-3204.

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This article was provided by SMART Couples Project.
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