Most professional couples have trouble finding time to spend
with one another; the demands of their careers are such that moments
together are few. Not so for Gina Wingood and Ralph DiClemente—their
partnership in life extends far beyond their home.
“Her office is right next door to mine,” DiClemente
said. “We drive in together. We go home together. We work
together. So, we are actually together almost 24 hours a day.”
Wingood and DiClemente, associate professor and Charles Howard Candler
Professor, respectively, are prolific researchers at the Rollins
School of Public Health. Each of their resumes is long enough to
be a small book. And since 1995, most of their published work has
been done together; they have cowritten 64 journal articles and
have another 14 in press, not to mention writing and editing books
together. Of their multiple active grants, the two share seven as
principal and co-principal investigators.
Together they have been studying HIV prevention for adolescents
and young women, particularly of African American heritage. Their
behavioral approach focuses on developing HIV prevention programs
that are interactive (as opposed to didactic) and that take individuals
into account by including issues of gender and ethnic pride, self-esteem,
“Other programs focused on what is HIV, what is a condom,
how to use a condom,” Wingood said. “We took a much
different approach. We said, ‘You know what, you are talking
to a person.’ So, what we talked about is issues of gender
pride: What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be
a strong woman? When you do that, you motivate the individual to
be different, to adopt different sexual behaviors.”
Their collaboration began in 1989 when they met while doing research
in community-based organizations in San Francisco. They each came
into the partnership with a slightly different focus and research
interest. With a psychology background, DiClemente focused on adolescents,
while Wingood’s educational background is in social behavior
and she concentrated on women’s issues. Both feel their work
has benefited from their different perspectives.
“Public health is a hybrid field,” DiClemente said.
“It’s not a discipline with a long heritage, so the
opportunities are great to be multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary,
and to address complex public health problems from a variety of
vantage points. We could do that by fusing and complementing our
backgrounds in terms of theory, research, method, design and analysis.”
When they met, Wingood was working on her master’s and PhD
while the two developed a prevention program with young African
American women. The program was successful; participants demonstrated
increased and consistent condom use. Additionally, they showed improved
self-efficacy, as well as better communication with their partners
about HIV risk and more assertiveness about HIV protection.
“Most effective HIV prevention programs increase condom use,
but our program is actually influential in increasing consistent
use of condoms,” Wingood said. “Unfortunately, to prevent
HIV, you can’t use a condom every once in a while—you
have to use it every time you have sex. And so the idea of being
a consistent condom user is very important.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognized the effectiveness
of their program and included it in the “Compendium of HIV
Prevention Interventions with Evidence of Effectiveness.”
Not only was it an honor for the pair’s work to be included
—only a handful of studies are endorsed—but it also
allowed their work to reach a broader audience. Public health departments
use the compendium as a guide to developing their programs of HIV
prevention. Thus, Wingood and DiClemente’s program was adopted
nationally, and more recently it’s taken root internationally
with programs in St. Maarten and South Africa.
The husband and wife are equally excited about their impact locally.
One of their programs is in collaboration with the Fulton County
Health and Wellness STD Clinic, which treats half of all sexually
transmitted diseases cases in Georgia.
“The goal is always to design a study large enough to impact
the epidemic locally but also to design a study that affects systems,”
DiClemente said. “If the health department can show that this
program worked, there are lots of STD clinics around the country—maybe
they’ll adopt the program. If we train and work with their
staff, there is a better likelihood that the program will continue
when the grant is over.”
The pair’s combined research has continued to grow and adapt
through the years. What began as a single HIV prevention program
has expanded to 10 funded projects, many of which are multisite
studies. Their focus also has expanded beyond working with individuals.
“We realized that outside of the individual were influences
that affect the individual’s sexual behavior,” Wingood
said, citing family, partner and the media as some of those factors.
“So you still want to work with one person, but you may want
to work with a parent and a child to reduce their risk of HIV. And
similarly, in terms of women’s risk—you don’t
have sex by yourself—we work with a couple to reduce the risk
for both partners of HIV.”
It all sounds like quite a bit of work for a married couple, and
it is; overseeing multiple programs, along with writing and editing
articles, books and grants, keeps them busy 24/7.
“It doesn’t make a difference to us whether it is Saturday,
Sunday or Tuesday because you are working every day,” DiClemente
said. “You lose the sense of time because it’s not bounded
anymore. You go to bed at 2 or 3 a.m., and some nights you don’t
go to bed at all, trying to get something done.
“People say, ‘Hey Ralph, don’t you get tired talking
about HIV and STDs?’ But, in reality, no,” he continued.
“As long as it’s a problem, let’s talk about it
and keep talking about it, and maybe other people will hear that
conversation. If you change the life of one person, isn’t
Managing an incredible workload, the couple appreciates being able
to understand one another and work as a team. “It’s
nice to be passionate about the same things and to have that kind
of fire and interest for being advocates of women and adolescents,”
Hard to believe that, once upon a time, Wingood’s family was
apprehensive about her marriage to DiClemente; they wondered if
the two had enough in common.
As it turned out, Wingood said, “We have everything in common.”