Assessing Potential Outcomes Mediation in HIV Interventions

Heather L. Smyth, Eileen V. Pitpitan, David P. MacKinnon, Robert E. Booth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Knowledge of causal processes through mediation analysis can help improve the effectiveness and reduce costs of public health programs, like HIV prevention and treatment interventions. Advancements in mediation using the potential outcomes framework provide a method for estimating the causal effect of interventions on outcomes via a mediating variable. The purpose of this paper is to provide practical information about mediation and the potential outcomes framework that can enhance data analysis and causal inference for intervention studies. Causal mediation effects are defined and then estimated using data from an HIV intervention randomized trial among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Ukraine. Results from a potential outcomes mediation analysis show that the intervention had a total causal effect on incident HIV infection such that participants in the experimental group were 36% less likely to become infected during the 12-month study than those in the control arm, but that neither self-efficacy nor network communication mediated this effect. Because neither putative mediator was significant, measurement and confounding issues should be investigated to rule out these mediators. Other putative mediators, such as injection frequency, route of administration, or HIV knowledge can be considered. Future research is underway to examine additional, multiple mediators explaining efficacy of the current intervention and sensitivity to confounding effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2441-2454
Number of pages14
JournalAIDS and Behavior
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Causal mediation
  • HIV intervention
  • HIV prevention
  • Mediation
  • Potential outcomes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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