Canadian and African students participated in the second annual SFU-SANTHE field course focused on HIV and youth in South Africa.

Health sciences students travel to South Africa for second annual field school on HIV and youth

September 27, 2017

By Emma Keeler-Dugas

This past May, 20 health sciences students with diverse backgrounds and perspectives travelled to Durban, South Africa where they spent two weeks with leading HIV researchers, clinicians and advocates at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine.

They were participating in SFU’s second SFU-Sub-Saharan African Network for Tuberculosis and HIV Research Excellence (SANTHE) field course focused on HIV and youth. The course was led by SFU health sciences professor Angela Kaida.

“The course takes an inter-disciplinary approach to understanding the burden of HIV among youth,” says Kaida. “This means that students learn about HIV virology, immunology and epidemiology, but they also learn about the social and structural factors that produce HIV risk, and the importance of community leadership.”

In addition to formal lectures, students learn directly from young women living with HIV, sex workers’ rights advocates, and youth researchers in Durban, an epicentre of the global HIV pandemic. They travelled to a large public hospital to learn from lay counselors’ leading efforts to increase TB testing, prevention and treatment. The students also met with traditional healers and frontline advocates who are working together to increase HIV testing and treatment uptake among youth in rural communities.

“Coming from a social science background, it was interesting to see how pathologists, immunologists, and frontline advocates are working together,” says Rejoice Chipuriro, a PhD student from the University of Johannesburg, who was among the student participants.

SFU health sciences undergraduate Narges Karami says, “The chance to visit a country affected by the HIV epidemic makes you understand the underlying issues you wouldn’t be able to see in a classroom. It uncovered a different side of the story and challenged my assumptions.”

Says Kaida, “Through field courses like this one, SFU is providing students with opportunities to engage with the world, build global networks, make connections between research and classroom learning, and become the next generation of global leaders in health sciences research, practice and policy.”