Students engaging in field course in South Africa visit the iTEACH team, which engages with those living with HIV.

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SFU students engage in co-learning on global health, HIV and youth in South Africa

June 02, 2016
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Eight SFU students, including five undergraduates, were among the first to participate in an intensive, experiential learning field course in global health that focused on HIV and youth in South Africa this month.

The SFU course was offered in partnership with the Sub-Saharan African Network for TB/HIV Research Excellence, (SANTHE). SANTHE is housed at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), in Durban, South Africa. 

The course, Global Health, HIV and Youth, focused on a “cell to society” approach, says Angela Kaida, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair (CRC) in the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU, who led the course.

Students examined the global burden of HIV among youth from an inter-disciplinary perspective, as well as the actions required to meet the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets to end AIDS by 2030 by scaling up HIV prevention-testing and antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV.

“The course provided an opportunity for Canadian and African students to learn together and contribute their experiences, knowledge and skills to tackle the high and continuing burden of HIV on young people around the world,” says Kaida, who holds a CRC in Global Perspectives in HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health.

Among the 11 African students enrolled in the course were graduate interns from the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Partnership in Botswana, master's and PhD-level students from the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), and medical and graduate students from the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV in South Africa.

Guest lecturers included leading South African HIV scientists, clinicians and advocates. Professor Hoosen (Jerry) Coovadia, who fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and is known globally for his groundbreaking research on preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, spoke on the historical roots of current public health challenges in South Africa. Dr. Quarraisha Abdool Karim, from CAPRISA, spoke on the science of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an HIV prevention strategy.

Students 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.

Students visited Edendale Public Hospital, where they met the team from iTEACH. 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.

“The mix of students resulted in the most engaging, insightful and controversial discussions and debates on the topics presented, in addition to a lot of laughter, singing and dancing along the way,” say SFU graduate students Kalysha Closson, Annalise Mathers and Nicola Tofflemire, who wrote about their experiences.

“The scientific learning about HIV in the course was extraordinary, especially learning from experts at the centre of the global HIV epidemic,” says Closson. “But the course’s real value that set it apart from other global courses was the opportunity to co-learn with health sciences students from African institutions.”

Professor Kaida agrees. “The course was designed to embody SFU’s vision to ‘engage the world’. Students had the opportunity to expand their global perspective with firsthand experience, as well as their global network of peers and future colleagues. Based on the effusive feedback from the students, lecturers and institutional partners, we’ve taken a great stride in the right direction.”