Faculty » Jennifer L. Syvertsen

Jennifer L. Syvertsen Assistant Professor
PhD, 2012; MPH, 2009, University of South Florida

Office: 1320B Watkins
Phone: (951) 827-6426
E-mail: jennifer.syvertsen@ucr.edu 

Professor Syvertsen is a Medical Anthropologist whose research on the global HIV epidemic offers insight into how social inequalities and structural violence become embodied in the everyday experiences of marginalized populations. Specifically, her work has explored the complex meanings of intimate relationships, interpersonal violence, “risk behaviors,” gender, and caregiving among underserved groups, including sex workers and people who inject drugs in Mexico, the US, and Kenya. Her current ethnographic research in western Kenya examines the social dimensions of increasingly medicalized policy responses to the HIV epidemic. Her interdisciplinary scholarship has appeared in journals including Social Science & Medicine, Medical Anthropology, and the International Journal of Drug Policy. Previously, she was an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the Ohio State University (2014-2017) and Postdoctoral Fellow in Global Public Health at UC San Diego (2012-2013). She earned her PhD in Applied Medical Anthropology and MPH in Epidemiology from the University of South Florida.

Research Highlights

Mexico-US border region:
Dr. Syvertsen’s research project along the border used epidemiologic, ethnographic, and visual methods to examine HIV risk among female sex workers and their intimate, non-commercial partners. This line of work was particularly concerned with how couples experienced love, trust, and emotional wellbeing within a broader context of drug war violence and material insecurity. This research has resulted in numerous collaborative publications in journals, including:

Syvertsen, JL & AM Robertson. 2015. Sex Work, Heroin Injection, and HIV Risk in Tijuana: A Love Story. Special Issue on the ethnography of affect for Anthropology of Consciousness, 26(2):191-206.

Syvertsen, JL, AM Robertson, KB Fergus, MD Ulibarri, H Amaro, G Martinez, G Rangel & SA Strathdee. 2015. Love, trust, and HIV risk among female sex workers and their intimate male partners. American Journal of Public Health, 105(8):1667-1674.
See a photo blog on the American Journal of Public Health website that chronicles the research team’s work here: http://ajphtalks.blogspot.com/2015/07/q-with-jennifer-syvertsen-of-ohio-state.html

See a video abstract for Dr. Syvertsen’s most recent article, published in Medical Anthropology. This visual essay explores forms of hope amidst the horror of the drug war along the border: https://vimeo.com/223106934

Since 2013, Dr. Syvertsen has been working with local partners in Kisumu, western Kenya, to address the emergence of injection drug use in a context where rapid urbanization amidst persistent economic inequalities are changing the social landscape. Drug use threatens to exacerbate the already serious HIV epidemic and local harm reduction programs are continually evolving within a dynamic health policy environment. Sponsored by a Fogarty-University of California GloCal Fellowship (http://ucghi.universityofcalifornia.edu/fellowships/glocal-health-fellowship), her mixed methods study helped provide evidence to national stakeholders to support the first needle and syringe exchange program in western Kenya.

Syvertsen, JL, K Agot, S Ohaga, SA Strathdee, CS Camlin, E Omanga, P Odonde, G Rota, K Akoth, J Peng & KD Wagner. 2015. Evidence of injection drug use in Kisumu, Kenya: Implications for HIV prevention. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 151:262-266.

Syvertsen, JL, K Agot, S Ohaga, M Dimova, A Guise, T Rhodes & KD Wagner. 2016. An ethnographic exploration of drug markets in Kisumu, Kenya. International Journal of Drug Policy, Special Issue on Drug Policy in Africa, 30:82-90.

See coverage in the Kenyan media here: http://www.nation.co.ke/lifestyle/DN2/Making-drug-use-safer-for-those-who-are-hooked/957860-3429470-12spqj0/index.html

Dr. Syvertsen is also involved with the East African section of IeDEA, an international research consortium supported by the NIH to generate global HIV/AIDS data (https://www.iedea.org/). In this capacity, she is a Co-Investigator and UCR Site PI of a project to assess how drug and alcohol use and mental health issues shape engagement in care among newly diagnosed HIV patients in three East African countries. As an outgrowth of this collaboration, she was recently awarded a supplement from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to conduct a social networks study to link the clinical and social worlds of HIV+ patients and assess how to leverage existing networks to improve health outcomes.

The United States:
Addressing drug-related health harms in US communities devastated by methamphetamine and opioid use comprises the final cornerstone of Dr. Syvertsen’s research agenda. With interdisciplinary colleagues, she has contributed to qualitative studies of methamphetamine use and partner violence in San Diego, reproductive health concerns among pregnant women struggling with opioid addiction in Ohio, and injection drug use in California’s Central Valley.

Syvertsen, JL, C Paquette & RA Pollini. 2017. Down in the Valley: Trajectories of Injection Initiation among Young Injectors in California’s Central Valley. International Journal of Drug Policy, 44:41-49.