Claudia Moreno, Ph.D.
Claudia Moreno, Ph.D., is associate professor at Fordham’s Graduate School of Social Service.
Claudia Moreno, Ph.D., recalls her reaction when she was asked to help research HIV-positive Latinas more than 15 years ago. “I thought, ’I don‘t know anything about HIV,’” said Moreno, then a specialist in developmental disabilities and autism. “But I am bilingual and they needed the help, so I went—and was instantly fascinated by the women’s stories.“
Moreno, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Social Service, shifted her focus to how HIV affects Latinas. Today, she is working to develop the first prevention intervention program specifically for Latinas. “I have collaborated with researchers across the country to culturally adapt other interventions for Latinas, but we don’t have anything that’s our own,” Moreno said, “and it’s sorely needed.”
Moreno is testing mainly Puerto Rican, Mexican and Dominican women between the ages of 18 and 29 in the New York/New Jersey area. She has recruited women who work or shop at neighborhood beauty salons and bodegas.
Moreno was part of a team of researchers that developed Project CONNECT, an intervention for heterosexual couples who are at risk for HIV. As part of the project, she worked with couples together and also with women on their own.
In 2004, she was asked by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevetion to alter an HIV intervention titled Sisters Informing Sisters on Topics about AIDS (SISTA) by changing the cultural focus from African-American women to Latinas.
SISTA is culturally and gender-relevant intervention designed to increase condom use. Five peer-led group sessions focus on ethnic and gender pride, HIV knowledge, and skills training around sexual risk-reduction behaviors and decision-making. The intervention is based on social learning theory as well as the theory of gender and power.
“What is nice about SISTA is that it talks about empowering women in several ways,” Moreno said. “But Latinas are very different than African-American women because of issues of machismo, marianismo and other cultural norms. And obviously, not all Latinas are the same. In many instances, we know the risk factors for specific communities. But Latinas—regardless of country of origin—have different levels of empowerment. This is why we have to empower women at different levels—and design interventions that have different messages—for them to avoid the risk of infection.”
Moreno will keep all of these differences in mind when developing an intervention for Latinas, including a special curriculum for women who are victims of intimate partner violence. As she has in the past, Moreno plans to bring her findings to agencies in the hope that they implement her strategies.
“I consider it research-in-action,” she said. “I’m a Latina, and I want these findings to not just remain in a journal, but to actually serve the community.”