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Thespina Yamanis Associate Professor School of International Service

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PhD & MPH, Health Behavior, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Gillings School of Global Public Health; BA with Highest Honors, Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Languages Spoken
Kiswahili, Spanish, Greek, and a bit of French
Favorite Spot on Campus
SIS Building
Dr. Thespina (Nina) Yamanis’ professional interests are in identifying the mechanisms that link social and structural conditions to health disparities and in designing community-based interventions to improve health among vulnerable groups. Her expertise is in HIV prevention for young adults and Latino immigrants, with a substantive focus on the role of social networks in health. She lead research to understand the influence of social networks on HIV risk behaviors among youth in Tanzania. In 2017 she was awarded a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to examine resilience and health in immigrant communities in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, Maryland. Dr. Yamanis has published her research in prestigious journals, including Social Science and Medicine, AIDS and Behavior, Global Public Health, PLOS NTDs (on field research findings from the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone), and Sociological Methods and Research. She often involves students in her research, and teaches global health at the undergraduate level and program planning at the Master's level.
See Also
Personal website
For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.


Summer 2020

  • SIS-793 Practicum in Int'l Affairs: COVID19 Response: Latinx Comm

  • SPA-085 Topics in Public Affairs: Pub Health Response COVID-19

Fall 2020

  • SISU-250 Env Sustainblty/Global Health

  • SISU-250 Env Sustainblty/Global Health

  • SISU-294 Comm Service Learning Project: Env Sustainblty/Global Health

  • SISU-294 Comm Service Learning Project: Env Sustainblty/Global Health

  • SISU-349 Topics Glb Ineq,Dev,Env,Hlth: Global Health Interventions

Spring 2021

  • SIS-696 Selected Topics:Non-Recurring: Immigrant Health

  • SPA-685 Topics in Public Affairs: Econ Implications of Covid19

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Research Interests

Dr. Yamanis’ research focuses on improving the health of underserved populations.  Her interests are in: 1) understanding the social and structural determinants of HIV risk among youth and immigrants; 2) developing and evaluating interventions to improve health among these vulnerable groups.  Her current projects focus on the influence of social networks to promote adolescent girls' health in sub-Saharan Africa, and the influence of community action and the local policy context on Latino immigrants' health in the Washington, DC area.

Selected Publications

  • Yamanis T, Morrissey T, Bochey L*, Cañas N*, Sol C.  “Hay que seguir en la lucha” (“You have to continue in the fight”): An FQHC’s community health action approach to promoting Latinx immigrants’ individual and community resilience.  Behavioral Medicine, 46:3-4, 303-316, DOI: 10.1080/08964289.2020.1738320

  • Maman S, Mulawa M, Balvanz P, McNaughton Reyes L, Kilonzo M, Yamanis T, Singh B, and Kajula L (2020). Results from a cluster-randomized trial to evaluate a microfinance and peer health leadership intervention to prevent HIV and intimate partner violence among social networks of Tanzanian men.  PLOS One, Mar 20;15(3):e0230371.

  • Ornelas I, Yamanis T, Ruiz R. (2020).  The health of undocumented Latinx immigrants: what we know and future directions. Annual Reviews of Public Health, 41, 289-308.

  • Poteat T, Wirtz A, Malik M, Cannon C, Hardy D, Arrington-Sanders R, Lujan M* , Yamanis T (2019). The gap between willingness and uptake: findings from mixed methods research on HIV prevention among Black and Latina transgender women. JAIDS. PMID: 31180995. DOI: 10.1097/QAI.0000000000002112
  • Yamanis T, Zea MC, Ramé Montiel AK*, Barker S, Díaz-Ramirez MJ, Page KR, Martinez O, and Rathod J.  Immigration legal services as a structural HIV intervention for Latinx sexual and gender minorities. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 2018 Nov 21. PMID: 30465116.  DOI: 10.1007/s10903-018-0838-y
  • Yamanis T, Malik M, del Río González AM, Wirtz A, Cooney E, Lujan M*, Corado R, Poteat T (2018). Legal immigration status is associated with depressive symptoms among Latina transgender women in Washington, DC. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health, 15(6): 1246. PMID: 29895781
  • Mulawa M, Yamanis T, Kajula L, Balvanz P, Maman S (2018).  Structural network position and performance of health leaders within an HIV prevention trial. AIDS and Behavior, Sep;22(9):3033-3043. PMID: 29705931
  • Yamanis T, Dervisevic E*, Mulawa M, Conserve D, Barrington C, Kajula L, Maman S (2016). Social network influence on HIV testing among urban men in Tanzania. AIDS and Behavior. DOI:10.1007/s10461-016-1513-8
  • Yamanis, Nolan, Shepler (2016).  Fears and misperceptions of the Ebola response system during the 2014-2015 outbreak in Sierra Leone. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 10(10: e0005077.
  • Kajula, Balvanz, Kilonzo, Mwikoko, Yamanis, Mulawa, Kajuna, Hill, Conserve, McNaughton Reyes, Maman (2016). Vijana Vijiweni II: A cluster-randomized trial to evaluate the efficacy of a microfinance and peer health leadership intervention for HIV and intimate partner violence prevention among social networks of young men in Dar es Salaam. BMC Public Health. Epub ahead of print 3 February 2016.
  • Mulawa, Kajula, Yamanis, Balvanz, Kilonzo, Maman (2016). Perpetration and victimization of intimate partner violence among young men and women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Epub ahead of print 22 Jan 2016.
  • Palazzolo, Yamanis, De Jesus, Maguire-Marshall & Barker (2015). Documentation status as a contextual determinant of HIV risk among transgender immigrant Latinas. LGBT Health, Epub ahead of print 15 December 2015. PMID: 26669583
  • Maman, Kajula, Balvanz, Kilonzo, Mulawa & Yamanis (2015).  Leveraging strong social ties among young men in Dar es Salaam:  A pilot intervention of microfinance and peer leadership for HIV and gender-based violence preventionGlobal Public Health. Epub ahead of print 20 Nov 2015. PMID: 26588115
  • Yamanis, Fisher, Moody, and Kajula (2015).  Young men’s social network characteristics and associations with sexual partnership concurrency in Tanzania. AIDS and Behavior,  Epub ahead of print 14 August 2015.
  • Yamanis, Merli, Neely, Tian, Moody, Xiaowen, and Gao (2013).  An empirical analysis of the impact of recruitment patterns on RDS estimates among a socially ordered population of female sex workers in China. Sociological Methods and Research, 42 (3), 392-425.
  • Yamanis, Doherty, Weir, Bowling, Kajula, Mbwambo, & Maman (2013). From coitus to concurrency: sexual partnership characteristics and risk behaviors of 15-19 year old men recruited from urban venues in Tanzania. AIDS and Behavior, 17(7), 2405-2415.
  • Yamanis, Maman, Mbwambo, Earp, & Kajula (2010). Social venues that protect against and promote HIV risk for young men in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Social Science and Medicine, 71 (9), 1601-1609.

Professional Presentations

37.   COVID-19 and the Gender Divide, Global Insights Panel, Balsillie School of International Affairs, June 4, 2020:

36.   The Lethal Inequities of the Coronavirus, The Big World Podcast, American University School of International Service, April 23, 2020:

35. Yamanis T, Mulawa M, Kilonzo M, Maman S, Singh B, and Kajula L. “Identifying high-risk social networks of adolescent girls and young women in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania”, poster presentation at the 20th annual International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, Kigali, Rwanda, December 6, 2019 (first author).

34. Aronson B, Yamanis T, Mulawa M, Moody J, and Maman M. “Social influence and diffusion effects on men's HIV testing during a randomized controlled intervention trial in Tanzania”, oral presentation at the 2nd annual North American Social Networks conference, Washington, DC, November 30, 2018 (co-first author)


Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • Award for Excellence in Master’s Student Mentoring, American University (university-wide award) 2019
  • Outstanding Contributions to Fostering Collaborative Scholarship, School of International Service, 2019
  • Center on Health, Risk and Society Research Fellows Program, American University, 2019
  • Bridges to Collaboration teaching award, American University, 2018
  • Social Networks and Health Fellow, Duke University, 2017
  • American University Faculty Retreat, Research Proposal Competition Winner (with Susan Shepler), 2014
  • Health Disparities Scholar, National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Program, 2010, 2013-2014
  • Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2007   
  • C.V. Starr International Research Award, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2006   
  • Global Health Fellow, Duke University's Sanford Institute of Public Policy Program on Global Policy and Governance in Geneva, Switzerland, 2006   
  • Intern, World Health Organization, Department of Gender, Women & Health, 2006   
  • Meritorious Student Paper Award, Society of Behavioral Medicine, 2006   
  • Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health, 2004   
  • Lucy S. Morgan Fellowship, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for outstanding leadership in Health Behavior and Health Education, 2004   
  • Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society, 1995

Grants and Sponsored Research

  • A Pilot Social Network Intervention to Reduce HIV and IPV among Adolescent Girls; R21MH114570-01 (2017-2020); Role: PI
  • Resilience and Health in Immigrant Communities: An Examination of a Community Health Action Approach in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, MD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Interdisciplinary Research Leaders Program (2017-2020).
  • A Pilot Legal Intervention to Increase HIV Service Use among Immigrant Latino MSM; NIAID/Emory University/CFAR Adelante Program (P30AI050409) (2015-2017); Role: PI
  • A Multilevel Intervention to Reduce HIV Risk among Networks of Men in Tanzania; NIMH R01098690 (2012-2017); Role: Co-I
  • Exploring the Ethics of a Social Network Intervention to Reduce HIV Risk among Young, Tanzanian Men; NIDA R25DA031608-01/Fordham University HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (2014-2016); Role: PI
  • Social Context of Risk, Identity and Service Use among Adolescent Black MSM in DC, funded by the Washington, DC Developmental Center for AIDS Research.      


AU Experts

Area of Expertise

HIV/AIDS risk behavior, youth, sub-Saharan Africa, hard-to-reach populations, violence against women and HIV, gloabl health disparities

Additional Information

Thespina Yamanis’ professional interests are in identifying the mechanisms that link social and economic conditions to global health disparities and in designing community-based interventions to improve health among the most vulnerable groups. She has conducted qualitative and quantitative field research for the past seven years on the social networks of young, urban men in Tanzania and their influence on the men’s HIV risk behavior and partner violence. Her work is part of a grant funded by the National Institutes of Health in which Yamanis and colleagues are piloting a combined health promotion/microfinance intervention for the men. In addition to her work in Tanzania, she has conducted research on violence against women at the World Health Organization, as well as research on migration and mental health with colleagues at the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública in Mexico. She currently teaches courses on health in developing countries and on micropolitics of development.

For the Media

To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.

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