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University of Missouri

Peers Keep It Real

Nursing professor develops peer-led intervention for individuals with HIV.

Maithe Enriquez

Maithe Enriquez, associate professor of nursing, is researching how peer-led interventions for individuals with HIV will help them adhere to their treatment plans. Photo by Shoshana Herndon.

As a doctoral nursing student focused on HIV research in the early 1990s, Maithe Enriquez minored in nutrition because she knew a cure for HIV would be found soon and she’d need a plan B.

“I was young and naïve,” says Enriquez, an associate professor in the Sinclair School of Nursing and a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing. By the time Enriquez graduated, her preceptor and her brother had died from AIDS.

Today, Enriquez is fine-tuning a peer-led intervention for the nearly half of all individuals diagnosed with HIV who don’t adhere to their treatment plans.

“It’s the stigma that keeps them from taking care of themselves,” Enriquez says. “I’ve had patients who don’t want to go to the pharmacy because the pharmacist knows what the medicine is, so the pharmacist will know what they have.”

The peer educators, who are HIV-infected lay people, meet with patients once a week for six weeks to identify barriers to receiving treatment and develop strategies for overcoming those obstacles. The peers become part of the medical team while also providing an insider perspective on how to live a full life with HIV.

Enriquez hopes that the intervention not only enables patients who relate better to peers to get the care they need but also allows clinics with limited resources to use the intervention.

Enriquez started the Peers Keep It Real intervention program in her academic practice at the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., where she works once a week. She received a three-year grant to expand the intervention to three more Kansas City clinics.

“My goal is to refine it to the point where if people want to use it, if they follow the steps, it’ll work.”