Social capital, or social cohesion or group connectedness, can influence both HIV risk behavior and substance use. Because recent immigrants undergo a change in environment, one of the consequences can be a change in social capital. There may be an association among changes in social capital, and HIV risk behavior and substance use post immigration. The dissertation focused on the interface of these three variables among recent Latino immigrants (RLIs) in South Florida.
The first manuscript is a systematic review of social capital and HIV risk behavior, and served as a partial background for the second and third manuscripts. Twelve papers with a measure of social capital as an independent variable and HIV risk as the dependent variable were included in the analysis. Eleven studies measured social capital at the individual level, and one study measured social capital at the group level. HIV risk was influenced by social capital, but the type of influence was dependent on the type of social capital and on the study population. Cognitive social capital, or levels of collective action, was protective against HIV in both men and women. The role of structural social capital, or levels of civic engagement/group participation, on HIV risk was dependent on the type of structural social capital and varied by gender. Microfinance programs and functional group participation were protective for women, while dysfunctional group participation and peer-level support may have increased HIV risk among men.
The second manuscript was an original study assessing changes in social capital and HIV risk behavior pre to post immigration among RLIs in South Florida (n=527). HIV risk behavior was assessed through the frequency of vaginal-penile condom use, and the number of sexual partners. It was a longitudinal study using secondary data analysis to assess changes in social capital and HIV risk behavior pre immigration to two years post immigration, and to determine if there was a relationship between the two variables. There was an 8% decrease in total social capital (p ˂ .05). Reporting of ‘Never use’ of condoms in the past 90 days increased in all subcategories (p ˂ .05). Single men had a decrease in number of sexual partners (p ˂ .05). Lower social capital measured on the dimension of ‘friend and other’ was marginally associated with fewer sexual partners.
The third manuscript was another original study looking at the association between social capital and substance use among RLIs in South Florida (n=527). Substance use with measured by frequency of hazardous alcoholic drinking, and illicit drug use. It was a longitudinal study of social capital and substance-use from pre to two years post immigration. Post-immigration, social capital, hazardous drinking and illicit drug use decreased (p˂.001). After adjusting for time, compared to males, females were less likely to engage in hazardous drinking (OR=.31, p˂.001), and less likely to engage in illicit drug use (OR=.67, p=.01). Documentation status was a moderator between social capital and illicit drug use. ‘Business’ and ‘Agency’ social capital were associated with changes in illicit drug use for documented immigrants. After adjusting for gender and marital status, on average, documented immigrants with a one-unit increase in ‘business’ social capital were 1.2 times more likely to engage in illicit drug use (p˂.01), and documented immigrants with one-unit increase in ‘agency’ social capital were 38% less likely to engage in illicit drug use (p˂.01). ‘Friend and other’ social capital was associated with a decrease in illicit drug use among undocumented immigrants. After adjusting for gender and marital status, on average, undocumented immigrants with a one-unit increase in ‘friend and other’ social capital were 45% less likely to engage in hazardous drinking and 44% less likely to use illicit drugs (p˂.01, p˂.05).
Studying these three domains is relevant because HIV continues to be a public health issue, particularly in Miami-Dade County, which is ranked among other U.S. regions with high rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence. Substance use is associated with HIV risk behavior; in most studies, increased substance use is associated with increased chances of HIV risk behavior. Immigration, which is the hypothesized catalyst for the change in social capital, has an impact on the dynamic of a society. Greater immigration can be burdensome on the host country’s societal resources; however immigrants are also potentially a source of additional skilled labor for the workforce. Therefore, successful adaption of immigrants can have a positive influence on receiving communities. With Florida being a major receiver of immigrants to the U.S, this dissertation attempts to address an important public health issue for South Florida and the U.S. at large.