Molo (“hello” in Xhosa) from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, where I arrived several weeks ago to join a project known as Youth Pulse.* This collaborative effort led by the Universities of Oxford and Cape Town is the world’s largest study of HIV-positive adolescents. With support from the South African Departments of Health, Social Development and Basic Education, UNICEF, USAID, and others, the project aims to explore the lived experiences of HIV-positive adolescents to improve adherence to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and increase utilization of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services.
With one of the world’s highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world, South Africa and its economy have been seriously impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the past few decades. In response to the necessity of ART in managing HIV infection, the South African government provides treatment to HIV+ individuals for free. Despite this, only 21% of adolescents who test positive for HIV and begin ART in South Africa adhere to treatment for over six months. Youth Pulse is searching for solutions to increase antiretroviral adherence among this important population, the country’s future leaders. The project has collected data from over 1,500 adolescent participants on the barriers to ART adherence and SRH service utilization.
As a budding public health professional with a love for international development and collaboration, Youth Pulse has been an outstanding fit for me. I have been impressed with the project’s ability to not only balance, but capitalize on the diversity of its staff. I’m honored to work with outstanding individuals from Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, Tajikistan, the U.K., and South Africa. We’re encouraged on a daily basis to use our unique cultural backgrounds to find creative solutions to issues in fieldwork data collection, while also strengthening relationships with our community partners.
This wonderful organizational culture has allowed me to feel part of a close-knit group within just two weeks of my arrival. As such, I can only imagine what’s in store for the next several months of my stay here!
*Youth Pulse is a public alias for this study, used to protect the identities of our participants.