Canadian and African students up their skills at second annual intensive course on HIV and youth

Friday, 12 May, 2017

Course students enjoying their visit to a rural settlement in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.The second intensive experiential learning field course in global health focussing on HIV and youth, organised by Simon Fraser University (SFU), Canada, in partnership with the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE), was successfully held from 2nd to 12th May this year.

The course led by Angela Kaida, associate professor and Canada Research Chair (CRC) at the Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU, saw 20 students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds converge in Durban, South Africa to gain some background in HIV virology, immunology, and epidemiology, and also, to learn more about creating community and building networks.

The students, a mixture of undergraduates, Masters and PhDs from Canada, Kenya, and South Africa, brought a wealth of different perspectives to the table while examining the global burden of HIV among youth from an inter-disciplinary perspective - as well as the actions required to meet UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets to end AIDS by 2030 (by scaling up HIV prevention efforts, HIV testing, and sustained uptake of antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV).

Based at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson Mandela School of Medicine Campus, the students learned from guest lecturers including leading South African HIV scientists, clinicians and advocates. They enjoyed an online interactive lecture by top UNAIDS advisors. They also learned from female sex workers fighting for safer working conditions; young women living with the stigma of HIV and trying to get the healthcare services they need; and clinicians and health researchers focused on HIV prevention and treatment. They visited Edendale Public Hospital, as well as the office of Integration of TB in Education and Care for HIV/AIDS (iTEACH), and learned first-hand how iTEACH engages people living with HIV, traditional healers and community members to work as front line “warriors” to increase uptake of HIV testing and TB screening at the initial point of contact in the hospital system. They also enjoyed a visit to Skobho Ward 8 - a rural settlement - to meet with a group of traditional healers to learn about how they provide HIV counselling and adherence support to people in their communities, and also enjoyed a traditional ceremony and lunch.

"The dynamic learning environment was intelligently designed, formally instructing multi-disciplinary approaches in health sciences,” said AHRI PhD student Armstrong Dzomba. “It provided a great platform for grooming an abundance of nuances. Contact lectures, tours, demonstrations, group work, reflective learning, interactive learning, including the tea and lunch breaks (extending the arena for networking and collegiality) were all invaluable in awakening the need to link next generation researchers, different sciences, social capital and competencies to find solutions to the burden of HIV among the youth"

“I was particularly drawn to the innovations in research and practice coming out of South Africa,” said one of the Canadian students. “The seminar style of the course helped with the learning process, as well as fostering a sense of comradery amongst us.”

“The SANTHE-SFU field school was the perfect introduction to my extended research placement in Professor Thumbi Ndung'u's laboratory at AHRI,” said SFU Masters student Ashley Henry. “I was introduced not only to the central issues and stakeholders in the field of youth and HIV, but also a number of experts in the field, and fellow students who I get to see on a regular basis in the AHRI building. It exposed me to the diversity and complexity of both the contributing factors to HIV in South Africa and the variation in viewpoints surrounding the related issues. Despite reading about the efforts made in South Africa to address the HIV epidemic, I was still struck by the innovation and magnitude of programming, activism, and research being conducted both at AHRI itself, and in the rest of South Africa.”

 “An incredible feature of the course is co-learning, whereby students bring their own experience, perspectives, and skills to the learning environment to teach one another.” says Kaida. “The discussions were rich, creative, passionate, and, at times, contentious. But such discussions are essential to move forward an ambitious agenda to ends AIDS by 2030 for all, including young people.”

The course has been supported by SFU and SANTHE for the past two years because it fits in perfectly with both institution’s goals: SANTHE’s - to foster an innovative training and capacity building programme (to advance African science and scientists) - and SFU’s – to “engage the world”. And, post course evaluation reflected a 100% satisfaction score in terms of content, instruction and general experience from the students’ perspective.