Claudia Stoicescu

Study program:
DPhil Social Intervention
Current affiliation:
University of Oxford

Ms. Stoicescu is investigating the trigger elements of sexual and injection-related HIV risk behaviours among women who use drugs and marginalized women in Indonesia.

Public health expert and 2014 Trudeau scholar Claudia Stoicescu has researched injecting drug use, HIV, and drug policy in over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, South America, North America, and Europe. Her expertise includes advising international organizations, policymakers and national governments, as well as designing, executing, and evaluating interventions on gender, harm reduction, and evidence-based policy. Conducted in urban centers with high rates of drug use in Indonesia, Stoicescu’s doctoral research studies factors associated with HIV risk among drug-injecting women, including experiences of police and intimate partner violence, mental health issues, and access to health care.

Doctoral research

Identifying Predictors of HIV Risk Behaviours Among Women Who Inject Drugs in Indonesia

Women who inject drugs have been largely underrepresented in national and global HIV surveillance as well as in research and policy. Despite evidence that female drug users have different needs and often face higher health risks than their male counterparts, the few studies that have focused on women have mainly been conducted in high-income countries. The underrepresentation of female drug users and injectors and the issues they face in research, service provision, and policy has resulted in the denial of basic health care and other human rights for hundreds of thousands of women worldwide. 

Claudia’s research investigates the predictors of sexual and injection-related HIV risk behaviours among women who inject drugs in the Indonesian context. Her research applies a participatory approach and uses a combination of epidemiological field data collection, multivariate statistical analysis, and systematic literature analysis. Ultimately, her work aims to inform the development of evidence-based, gender-sensitive programs and policies that will improve the lives and health outcomes of this community.

Tell us about your research project and its central idea. 

My research project investigates individual, social, and structural drivers of sexual and injecting HIV risk among women who use and inject drugs. My case study is Indonesia, where about one-third to one-half of people who inject drugs live with HIV. The research involves a comprehensive, participatory approach that considers multiple layers of an individual's experience and focuses on the role that factors such as social support, economic need, law enforcement, incarceration, access to services, and violence play in determining women's negative health outcomes. 

What led you to choose this research project in particular? 

Throughout my studies and professional career, I have had a determined interest in addressing the inequities faced by vulnerable groups affected by HIV and addiction. My varied roles in frontline service delivery, advocacy, and research gradually led me to understand the significant gender differences in drug use experiences, risk-taking behaviour, and access to health and social services. It is this difference that motivates my work. Unfortunately, research on the intersections between drug use and HIV has historically studied male injecting drug users, and the few academic studies that have focused on their female counterparts have largely been conducted in high-resource, developed countries. 

Existing studies have found that compared to men who inject drugs, female drug users experience significantly higher HIV and mortality rates as well as increased stigma, discrimination, and violence from their communities, law enforcement, and healthcare providers. The underrepresentation of women drug users and the issues they face in research, programs, and policies has resulted in the denial of basic health care and other human rights for hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.  

My primary goal with this research project is to address this crucial and greatly understudied area of global health and social inequity and to promote the right to health and dignity of marginalized women. 

What is new or surprising about your research? 

There is significant evidence showing that women who use or inject drugs experience overlapping and multi-level drivers that increase their vulnerabilities to HIV and other blood-borne viruses. Despite this evidence, the unique needs of women feature in very few studies and prevention interventions. 

My work aims to address this very gap around the intersection of gender, drug use, and HIV and to inform targeted and gender-sensitive programs and policies. It fills a significant research, policy, and programmatic gap not only in resource-poor settings such as South East Asia, but also globally.  

In your opinion, who will most benefit from your findings? 

Ultimately, this research aims to improve the lives of marginalized drug-using women by informing evidence-based programs and gender-sensitive policies. To achieve this goal, the research project has actively involved relevant local stakeholders such as the Ministry of Health, National AIDS Commission, local researchers, and community-based organizations in all aspects of study design, implementation, and dissemination. As such, the study not only addresses key research questions relevant to gender, addiction, and HIV, but also ensures that its findings will be applied to the development of effective services that ultimately benefit marginalized women affected by drug use.  

Within the next three to five years, what impact could your research have on the Canadian public policy debate? 

In the next three to five years, the findings from this research have the potential to greatly improve the visibility of this overlooked issue in international public health and policy. The unique needs and experiences faced by women who use and inject drugs face similar neglect across international contexts from the majority of policy-makers and researchers, be it in Canada or Indonesia.  This research can raise the profile of women who use and inject drugs as a target for ethical research, program development, and gender-sensitive policies and inform meaningful change in the way that we study and involve women in addiction and HIV research, service provision, and policy-making, ultimately changing women’s lives for the better.

Claudia Stoicescu has worked extensively in the fields of HIV/AIDS, addictions, and harm reduction as a frontline service provider, an analyst, and a researcher in Europe, North America, and South East Asia.  Originally from Romania, Claudia immigrated to Toronto in 1996, where she obtained a bachelor of arts (honours) in political science from York University. During her undergraduate studies, Claudia worked to raise the profile of HIV through her leadership in the university’s first youth chapter of Dignitas International, a medical organization working to uphold the human rights and dignity of vulnerable groups affected by HIV, and through her community outreach work with the AIDS Committee of Toronto. Claudia obtained a master’s of science degree from the University of Oxford's Centre for Evidence-Based Intervention, where she researched predictors of sexual risk behaviour among young people in Kazakhstan.

Most recently, Claudia held various research and advocacy roles with Harm Reduction International, Open Society Foundations, and the European Harm Reduction Network. At Harm Reduction International, Claudia managed Global State of Harm Reduction 2012, the only independent publication to monitor HIV program implementation and coverage for people who inject drugs around the world and a key reference document for civil society organizations and policymakers in the fields of HIV and addiction. At the same time, Claudia was first author of the Beirut Declaration, the official declaration of the 2011 International Harm Reduction Conference. This initiative called for more attention to evidence-based drug policies and HIV prevention programs for people who inject drugs in the lead-up to the 2011 UNAIDS Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. It was endorsed by an editorial in the Lancet and over 200 organizations worldwide.

Since 2008, Claudia has spent several years working with community organizations on HIV, development, and addiction in Indonesia. In 2013 and 2014, Claudia collaborated with international and Indonesian researchers, policymakers, community organizations, and affected women to plan her research on factors influencing HIV risk among drug-injecting Indonesian women. Aside from her engagement in HIV and addiction work, Claudia has published in independent media in Canada and the United Kingdom, and is passionate about poetry and photography.