Customizing a Tool to Collect Complex Network Data among HIV-positive Youth in South Africa (2017-2018)


HIV-positive youth repeatedly demonstrate lower levels of retention in HIV care and adherence to antiretroviral therapy compared to older adults. Developing evidence-based interventions to improve HIV care and engagement in this population will require an in-depth understanding of factors shaping retention and adherence behaviors from multiple levels of influence.

Developmental theories suggest that youth are particularly sensitive to and motivated by the social networks in which they are embedded. However, no studies have assessed the social networks of HIV-positive youth in South Africa to understand the structure and composition of these networks. This is likely because of the enormous methodological challenges historically involved in collecting and analyzing such complex data. Recent technological innovations facilitate the collection and analysis of complex network data, though customizing newly created tools to collect network data among HIV-positive youth in South Africa will require an interdisciplinary approach.

Project Description

The goal of this Bass Connections project is to customize and pilot a novel network data capture tool to collect data on the social networks of HIV-positive youth in South Africa.

With guidance from the Duke University Network Analysis Center, this project team will customize an existing open-source network data capture tool called NetworkCanvas for use in the South African context. NetworkCanvas was developed by researchers at Northwestern University to study the social networks of young men who have sex with men. The tool has many benefits including an interactive touchscreen interface and a user-centered design. However, it has not yet been utilized in international settings and is built to handle only certain types of traditional data. Thus, the team will customize the tool to capture complex data on the various social networks of HIV-positive youth.

In order to inform the development of the data capture tool, the project team will also aim to understand the potential types of social networks (e.g., social support networks, disclosure networks, sexual networks) that should be assessed. Team members will explore and discuss literature on adolescent/youth health, gender and culture in South Africa, social network influence on health behaviors and stigma and barriers of adherence to antiretroviral therapy among youth.

After customizing the tool, the team will pre-pilot an English version of the instrument with youth in Durham. Pre-piloting the tool will allow team members to immediately implement changes to the tool based on feedback solicited from the participants.

Subsequently, Dr. Mulawa (team leader) will travel to Cape Town, South Africa, to meet with the team’s South African collaborators, deliver the tablets and train a local data collector in using the instrument with participants. They will pilot the tool with youth in Cape Town until they have collected data from approximately 15 HIV-positive youth. This will allow the team to collect complex network data of up to 40 network members (and the relationships between them) for each participant. Once the pilot is complete, the team will then analyze the network data collected from these participants to describe the structure and composition of their networks.

Anticipated Outcomes

Published paper describing the adaptation of this network data capture tool, the process of pre-piloting the instrument with youth in Durham and the feasibility of using the tool with youth in South Africa as well as the findings of the pilot; adapted network data capture tool for use in future longitudinal research in South Africa


Fall 2017 – Summer 2018

  • Fall 2017: Begin customization of network data capture tool
  • Spring 2018: Complete customization of tool; pre-pilot with youth in Durham; pilot with youth in Cape Town; analyze data
  • Summer 2018: Complete data analysis by June 2018

Team Outcomes to Date

ART Adherence and Social Network Structure and Function among HIV-Infected Women in Cape Town, South Africa (poster by Marta Mulawa, Shannon Elliott, Allison Geary, Alexander Volfovsky, James Moody, John Joska, Kathleen Sikkema); Judges’ Selection Runner-up at Bass Connections Showcase, April 18, 2018

This Team in the News

Marta Mulawa Presents Bass Connections Research at Adherence 2018 Conference

Bass Connections Showcase Presents Research Highlights from Durham to Malaysia

Judges’ Selection for Best Poster Goes to Team Exploring Health Needs of Refugees in Durham

Marta Mulawa and team members at a conference

/faculty/staff Team Members

  • Robert Duvall, Arts & Sciences-Computer Science
  • James Moody, Arts & Sciences-Sociology
  • Marta Mulawa, Duke Global Health Institute*
  • Kathleen Sikkema, Duke Global Health Institute|Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Alexander Volfovsky, Arts & Sciences-Statistical Science

/graduate Team Members

  • Brian Aronson, Sociology-PHD
  • Shannon Elliott, Global Health - MS

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Allison Geary, Economics (AB), Public Policy Studies (AB2)
  • Dylan Peters, Electrical & Computer Egr(BSE), Computer Science (BSE2)

/zcommunity Team Members

  • John Joska, University of Cape Town
  • Basant Singh