May 23, 2018 - ATN Researcher Profile: Amanda Dunlap
When is a street sign more than just a street sign? Amanda Dunlap sees that street sign – and everything else – through the lens of public health. Dunlap’s mission is to empower communities to see everything from a public health perspective. “When someone asks, ‘What is public health?’ I say, everything,” she said.
A sign indicating a bike lane, for example, indicates urban planning that’s considered public health. “Do you have a safe space to ride your bike along the street? Are there policies that let you do that? That is public health because communities need spaces to perform and engage in activities that promote good health outcomes,” Dunlap said. “You think of it as just a street sign, but it’s not just a street sign.”
Dunlap is a Project Manager based at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sexuality & Health Disparities. She is also the project director for TERA, or Triggered Escalating Real-time Adherence, an ATN study for youth living with HIV aged 13-24 who have failed to adhere to their anti-retroviral therapy, or ART, medication.
ART refers to HIV medicines that help reduce the level of virus in the blood. Successfully adhering to taking ART means the person living with HIV has undetectable and un-transmittable levels of the virus in the body.
Adherence to ART is important to keep a person living with HIV from getting sicker or passing on the virus to others. The TERA study looks at innovative ways to increase ART adherence in youth living with HIV. Text message reminders, virtual counseling, and a ‘smart’ pill bottle that reports if it’s been opened or not each day are all interventions in the TERA study.
“I think the most significant thing about TERA is the adaptation of technology and talking to youth where they are,” Dunlap said. “The text messaging and other technology garners their interest and retains their interest.” As project director for TERA, she helps troubleshoot any issues with a study participant, checks in with study sites around the US, talks to the study coordinators about any questions they have, and works with the ATN Coordinating Center, based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to help manage the study.
“I’ve been learning a lot about the research process, regulatory processes, and what it takes to get a site activated,” Dunlap said. She visits different clinic sites around the country that are helping to recruit participants for TERA to help with training and setting up the sites.
Before Dunlap started on the TERA project, she was a labor and delivery nurse with a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing at Johns Hopkins University and earned a bachelor of arts degree in sociology from the University of Michigan.
While earning her degrees, she spent time with the study abroad program Pedagogy of Action and visited South Africa and Jamaica, which led to her interest in HIV/AIDS education. “That was my entry into how to educate others, and that grew my interest into what it was like to work with vulnerable populations that are more affected by HIV,” she said. While working as a nurse, Dunlap was looking for a way to get back into public health when she heard about the TERA project. “I definitely see myself having a role in youth and HIV going forward,” she said. “I see myself involved in community-based interventions and getting communities involved in decision making about public health.”
She considers it important for communities to take ownership of their own health. “That is my driving force,” Dunlap said. “For me it’s not about going in with a solution, but instead: What can I offer you for resources and tools so you can tell me what you see as the issue?”
Specifically, Dunlap is passionate about maternal and child health as well as environmental health, a passion she puts to use in her home city of Detroit. “I am through and through a Detroit girl,” Dunlap said. “I love the city, and everyone talks about the revitalization of it, but home grown and local people and communities are still here and they are vibrant and integral.”
“Detroit is not coming back,” she said. “It never left.” In her downtime, Dunlap looks for ways she can help impact maternal and child health through institutions and community-based organizations in the city. She also focuses on spending time with family and is currently working on a home renovation.