May 2 to 12, 2016 saw a group of 20 students from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds converge in Durban, South Africa, to attend a pilot, 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).
The course entitled, Global Health, HIV and Youth, focused on a “cell to society” approach, and was led by Angela Kaida, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair (CRC) at the Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU. She said the course was not only intended to teach and expose the students to a background in HIV virology, immunology, and epidemiology, but also about “creating community and building networks”.
The students, a mixture of undergraduates, MPHs, PhDs and post-docs from Botswana, Canada, Kenya, Nigeria 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 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 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 a rural settlement to meet with a group of traditional healers for a traditional ceremony and lunch.
“The scientific learning was extraordinary, especially hearing from experts at the centre of the global HIV epidemic,” said Kalysha Closson, SFU student. “But the course’s real value, setting it apart from other global courses, was the opportunity to co-learn with health sciences students from African institutions.”
The course fit in perfectly with both party’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.