This paper described methods to evaluate disseminated effects in sociometric network studies and applies these methods to network-based study of injection drug users at risk for HIV. The manuscript is submitted to Annals of Applied Statistics.
Evaluating causal effects in the presence of interference is challenging in network-based studies of hard-to-reach populations. Like many such populations, people who inject drugs (PWID) are embedded in social networks and often exert influence on others in their network. In our setting, the study design is observational with a non-randomized network-based HIV prevention intervention. Information is available on each participant and their connections that confer possible HIV risk through injection and sexual behaviors. We considered two inverse probability weighted (IPW) estimators to quantify the population-level effects of non-randomized interventions on subsequent health outcomes. We demonstrated that these two IPW estimators are consistent, asymptotically normal, and derived a closed-form estimator for the asymptotic variance, while allowing for overlapping interference sets (groups of individuals in which the interference is assumed possible). A simulation study was conducted to evaluate the finite-sample performance of the estimators. We analyzed data from the Transmission Reduction Intervention Project, which ascertained a network of PWID and their contacts in Athens, Greece, from 2013 to 2015. We evaluated the effects of community alerts on HIV risk behavior in this observed network, where the links between participants were defined by using substances or having unprotected sex together. In the study, community alerts were distributed to inform people of recent HIV infections among individuals in close proximity in the observed network. The estimates of the risk differences for spillover using either IPW estimator demonstrated a protective effect. The results suggest that HIV risk behavior can be mitigated by exposure to a community alert when an increased risk of HIV is detected in the network.
Sample code can be found in Shared Resource.