Spotlight on the People of the HVTN


Machel Hunt
Machel Hunt

Machel Hunt

Community Engagement and Recruitment Manager, Emory Hope CRS, Atlanta, GA, USA

Machel was born and raised in London, England from Jamaican parentage. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Greenwich in London, a Master’s of Science in Counselling Psychology from Westminster University in London, and a Post Graduate Masters in Relationship Counselling and Psychosexual Therapy from the Institute of Sexuality and Human Relations in London. Since relocating to the United States 4 years ago, he has worked with individuals and families to provide 1:1 counselling, couples counselling, and more recently with the HVTN as the manager for community engagement and recruitment at the Atlanta Hope Clinic site.

In 2015, Machel joined Callen-Lorde Community Health Centre in New York City as a Research Associate/Counsellor for the SPARK study. SPARK tested the success of two behavioral interventions to improve decision-making around taking PrEP, and improve medication-taking behavior for those individuals that decided to use PrEP as part of their HIV prevention plan. This was Machel’s introduction to clinical research in the United States.

In 2017, Machel relocated to Atlanta, GA, to work with the Hope Clinic, a part of Emory University Vaccine Center, where he manages the Community Engagement and Recruitment Team as well as clinical research projects to facilitate local community involvement and engagement. Machel is passionate about working with Black Gay Men/MSM and is active in providing education and support to this community which he is a part of, often volunteering at Pride events around the city and facilitating workshops for gay men.

He says, “I love the HVTN because it represents the best of what clinical research is. The ethos and objectives of the HVTN has community at its core and that makes my job that much easier when educating and recruiting in the field”. 

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Hugo Sanchez Sarmiento
Hugo Sanchez Sarmiento

Hugo Sanchez Sarmiento

Lead Community Educator and Recruiter, San Marcos/UNIDEC CRS, Lima, Peru

My work on HIV began in the mid-90s. It was a time when HIV had reached the gay/trans community of Peru in a devastating and cruel way, taking the lives of dozens of friends in horrible ways. The life expectancy for a person with HIV was a few years because there was no antiretroviral treatment, there was not much information, and there was a lot of discrimination. This, together with the violence existing in the country toward our community, made it a period of dark and sad years. In '96 I decided that I wanted to learn more about HIV because I was sure there should be something to tell people that could give them hope and faith. That's how I discovered the world of scientific research. When I finished my degree in psychology, I decided to look for ways to transmit wellbeing to people. I worked for many years as a coordinator of recruitment, retention and community development, as well as counseling in HIV prevention and giving support to people living with HIV. I currently have my own organization called EPICENTRO, which is aimed at preventing HIV through culture, and I am a community educator at UNIDEC where we work in clinical trials. What moves and enthuses me to participate in the HVTN is the careful manner that its representatives have about what is related to the wellbeing of our community. From the use of a photo that makes everyone feel included, to the minute detail with which they review each clinical procedure, all this gives me hope that we can soon make a big change in the world.

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Jarissa Greenard
Jarissa Greenard

Jarissa Greenard

Community Educator and Recruiter, Vanderbilt University CRS, Nashville, TN, USA

Communicating ideas and motivating others are two of my passions. After completing a Masters of Arts in Education at Tennessee State University, I immersed myself in Nashville's health and fitness network. Building on this experience, I then joined the HIV Vaccine Trials Network (HVTN) team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, bringing my joy and devotion to wellness education with a service-oriented outlook to this new opportunity I enjoy.

Education and empowerment are more than just words. These are critical tools essential to ending the HIV epidemic. Community conversations around sexual health have led to progress; however, there is still so much more work that needs to be done to address health disparities, HIV stigma and health literacy in the general population. Seeing advances in HIV research, specifically through the HVTN, is why I love working with the Network! It’s the people behind the research I find most inspiring. Everyone makes the work done at the HVTN possible and gives hope to those affected by HIV/AIDS.

The community educator role encompasses a wide range of educational topics on HIV/AIDS. Instead of contributing to the stigma, we assist in being part of the solution. Jim Watkins once said, “A river cuts through rock, not because of power, but because of its persistence.” Continued research is critical because it helps to resolve global inconsistencies in the health care system. Leaving an imprint on humanity is the greatest gift of all, and it’s why I look forward to many more years with the HVTN.

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Rafael Gonzalez
Rafael Gonzalez

Rafael Gonzalez

Community Programs Manager, Bridge HIV CRS, San Francisco, CA, USA

My work in HIV started in college when I took a course on anthropological biology as a pre-requisite for my degree in Psychology, and I wrote a paper where I drew a comparison between the finches on the Galapagos Islands to HIV and human cells. HIV was like the finches who would evolve based on their unique environment: the island or the human cell. Later that year, I applied to an internship through San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) called SHARP (Summer HIV AIDS Research Program). I was 1 of 5 students selected from across the nation to go through a summer of intensive learning within the extremely intersectional field of HIV. I was placed at Bridge HIV within SFDPH, and my research project that summer was to analyze a survey we had sent out to Bay Area-based Primary Care Providers about their knowledge of PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) and willingness to prescribe it, as it had just been approved by the FDA.

Midway through my internship experience, I identified an open part-time Clinical Studies Recruiter position at Bridge HIV. I applied, got it, and the rest is history. While at Bridge HIV, I have been an intern, a recruiter, an educator, a research associate,and now Community Programs Manager. I have worked on a variety of studies from many different angles.

Not only do I feel exhilarated and humbled by what I get to contribute to my community on a local scale, I get to make an impact on a global scale by being a part of the HVTN. Specifically, my favorite thing about being a part of the HVTN are all the mentors it has provided me. You are all so inspiring!!

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Dr. Kathy Mngadi
Dr. Kathy Mngadi

Dr. Kathy Mngadi

Principal Investigator, Tembisa CRS, Johannesburg, South Africa

Dr. Kathy Mngadi qualified as a medical practitioner at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine in 1987. While working in a communicable diseases outpatient clinic in Durban, following a personal bout of Tuberculosis, she first encountered HIV and referred confirmed TB cases for HIV testing through an NGO, in the days when only venous samples were drawn and results took two weeks to get back. At that time no treatment was available for HIV, and the havoc wreaked by the disease in those co-infected with TB prompted her to take on the role of Medical Director at a local hospice where she was pivotal in opening admissions to HIV-infected patients for respite, end-of-life care, and treatment of opportunistic infections. She worked in the first ART programme in South Africa at the Anglogold Orkney Hospital clinic, where she was first exposed to HIV treatment research through the Aurum Institute. She later joined in their own PEPFAR-funded ART programme and eventually in HIV and TB prevention and treatment research at the Klerksdorp site, working on HVTN 503 among other protocols. She joined CAPRISA in Durban 7 years later, implementing HVTN 100, 107, 108, 702, and 703, and also serves as co-chair of HVTN 107 and HVTN 705/HPX2008. She sits on the Scientific Governance, Protocol Committee, and Efficacy Trials Working Group. She recently re-joined the Aurum team in May 2018 as a CRS leader and PI for HVTN 705/HPX2008 at the Tembisa-Clinic 4 site. She enjoys the sense of community in the HVTN, the effort to build capacity among local investigators, and the strong Community Engagement programme promoted within the HVTN. She is determined to contribute to the collaborative efforts to find a safe and effective HIV vaccine.

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Dr. Fatima Laher

CRS Leader, Soweto-Bara CRS, Soweto, South Africa

Pictured, (from left) Dr. Fatima Laher, Anusha Nana, Dr. Jenny Coetzee, Dr. Janan Dietrich (Co-Chair of the HVTN Sub-Saharan Africa Social and Behavioral Working Group) and Professor Glenda Gray (Co-PI of the HVTN and Director of HVTN Africa Programs) were amongst the mentors at the Young Women in Science event hosted by Dr. Dietrich and attended by young females aspiring to be scientists, including emerging HVTN researchers.
Pictured, (from left) Dr. Fatima Laher, Anusha Nana, Dr. Jenny Coetzee, Dr. Janan Dietrich (Co-Chair of the HVTN Sub-Saharan Africa Social and Behavioral Working Group) and Professor Glenda Gray (Co-PI of the HVTN and Director of HVTN Africa Programs) were amongst the mentors at the Young Women in Science event hosted by Dr. Dietrich and attended by young females aspiring to be scientists, including emerging HVTN researchers.

My work in HIV started in college when I took a course on anthropological biology as a pre-requisite for my degree in Psychology, and I wrote a paper where I drew a comparison between the finches on the Galapagos Islands to HIV and human cells. HIV was like the finches who would evolve based on their unique environment: the island or the human cell. Later that year, I applied to an internship through San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH) called SHARP (Summer HIV AIDS Research Program). I was 1 of 5 students selected from across the nation to go through a summer of intensive learning within the extremely intersectional field of HIV. I was placed at Bridge HIV within SFDPH, and my research project that summer was to analyze a survey we had sent out to Bay Area-based Primary Care Providers about their knowledge of PrEP (Pre Exposure Prophylaxis) and willingness to prescribe it, as it had just been approved by the FDA.

Midway through my internship experience, I identified an open part-time Clinical Studies Recruiter position at Bridge HIV. I applied, got it, and the rest is history. While at Bridge HIV, I have been an intern, a recruiter, an educator, a research associate, and now Community Programs Manager. I have worked on a variety of studies from many different angles.

Not only do I feel exhilarated and humbled by what I get to contribute to my community on a local scale, I get to make an impact on a global scale by being a part of the HVTN. Specifically, my favorite thing about being a part of the HVTN are all the mentors it has provided me. You are all so inspiring!!

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Ntando Yola
Ntando Yola

Ntando Yola

Community Engagement Lead, Emavundleni CRS, Cape Town,
South Africa

Working with the organization’s community and site teams, Ntando ensures that communities are central to the efforts of the search for effective, affordable and accessible HIV vaccines, as well as research for other tools for HIV prevention. Ntando’s work of community engagement is guided by principles of informing, consulting, involving, collaborating, and mutual empowerment, to ensure meaningful roles of communities in the research process. In his role as a lead, he ensures the use of standard development and implementation of community education programmes, advisory mechanisms, partnerships with health service providers, and other community-based stakeholders. Ntando’s work is motivated by an interest in effectively engaging and involving communities, working and being attentive to interests and needs, such that they take ownership in the efforts that seek to achieve control of the AIDS epidemic, especially in sub-Sharan Africa.

As Co-Chair of the HPTN Community Working Group, Ntando has been involved in the establishment of a South African framework for stakeholder engagement which came about as a result of his AVAC fellowship work in 2013. This work bridges the gap between civil society groups that are within the country’s National AIDS Council (SANAC) through to the provincial and local levels where communities are involved in HIV vaccine research and other ARV-based prevention trials of microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis.  

Ntando feels honoured and excited to have been part of HVTN’s journey as early as the days of Phambili (HVTN 503) through to the current era of Uhambo (HVTN 702) and Imbokodo (HVTN 705/HPX2008). One of the most exciting aspects about this journey is having experienced and knowing what it means to be very hopeful yet humbled by an era of disappointing outcomes of large scale trials in the late 2000s. Those experiences have taught us to appreciate the contribution of communities who, when the field was reeling from futility results, were the ones who reminded us what we had told them when introducing research to them, that it is only a trial. Therefore, the field, led by scientists, with all teams, communities and advocates, cannot stop but has to press on in unison until one of the ultimate hopes to defeat HIV is realized, finding an HIV vaccine.

Looking back and seeing the present, where two large scale vaccine trials are in the field with communities putting themselves forward to advance the discovery, brings cautious hope that whatever the outcome, one thing is for sure: the discovery of an HIV vaccine is more near than far. In fact, if for whatever reason vaccines are delayed, the world is not denied because of the growing body of knowledge about antibody mediated prevention. The future therefore continues to be one that is filled by hope, and the products we have currently in oral and possibly topical PrEP should be maximized. That way HIV has no option but to surrender
in the near future!

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Dr. Hyman Scott
Dr. Hyman Scott

Dr. Hyman Scott

Medical Director, Bridge HIV CRS, San Francisco, CA, USA

Dr. Scott is the Medical Director for Clinical Research at Bridge HIV in the San Francisco Department of Public Health. He received his BA from Stanford University; MD from Yale School of Medicine; and MPH from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his Internal Medicine residency, Chief Residency, Infectious Disease fellowship, and post-doctoral research training in the Traineeship for AIDS Prevention Studies at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine.

His interest in HIV prevention research started during medical school after learning about the rising number of HIV infections in marginalized populations domestically and globally, and the need for new prevention options. He has a particular interest in the epidemiology of HIV-related racial and ethnic disparities among men who have sex with men (MSM), and interventions to reduce those disparities. He is currently the protocol co-chair of HVTN 119 and HVTN 129/HPTN 088. He most appreciates the collaborative opportunities and support within the HVTN for early stage investigators. In addition to conducting HIV vaccine and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) studies at Bridge HIV, he is developing and testing technology-based HIV prevention interventions for MSM, including mobile and web apps, focused on sexual behavior risk reduction and uptake of HIV prevention interventions such as HIV testing and PrEP. Dr. Scott currently has a K23 award from the National Institute of Mental Health to develop and test a mobile app-based combination HIV intervention that incorporates home HIV self-testing, self-collection of sample for STI testing, and PrEP uptake among young Black MSM in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Jazzelle Bonilla
Jazzelle Bonilla

Jazzelle Bonilla

Community Liasion,
Rochester Victory Alliance CRS,
Rochester, NY, USA

I was introduced to HIV and the surrounding prevention work at an early age as a peer youth advocate for the MOCHA center, an organization focused on supporting LGBT youth of color in Rochester, NY. I learned about the devastating impact the disease was having on my community, and how community engagement activities are critical to providing education and tools to those who need it most.

When I first learned of my own HIV diagnosis in 2015, it lit a fire within me. I wanted to turn my diagnosis into something positive.  In 2016, I joined the Community Education & Recruitment team, where it has been my mission to not only recruit new study volunteers but also educate people from all backgrounds about HIV prevention research.

Recently, I played an integral role in the University of Rochester Artist in Residence Project. This project aims to break the cycle of stigma surrounding HIV and to foster awareness through a series of watercolor portraits (of folks within our local HIV community), painted by our Artist in Residence. As part of the project, a short documentary was created about the process entitled, “Don’t Define Me”, where I shared my story of being an African American Trans woman living with HIV.

Being a part of the HVTN feels like belonging to a big family of superheroes from different walks of life all around the world. From Africa to South America to cities all over the USA, we are all doing the hard work of engaging our communities toward a common goal. I’m proud to be a part of that.

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Jorge Benitez
Jorge Benitez

Jorge Benitez 

Community Engagement Coordinator, Columbia Physicians and Surgeons CRS, New York, NY

In 1980, when I was 10, living in East New York, Brooklyn, the streets were riddled with heroin injection drug users and soon followed by the crack epidemic.  My neighbors also included gay men.  Some owned it, however many more preferred to keep their sexuality private. Now it’s 2018 and we still struggle with breaking down the systemic stigmas of being an LGBTQI & Same Gender Loving person. At that time, I witnessed the deterioration of people’s physiques, having fallen ill at the hands of what scientists discovered to be HIV years later. My neighbors were dropping like flies. No one knew why and few cared. There wasn’t much empathy toward drug users and “gays.”

Fast forward 20 years. I made a transition from corporate design to concentrating my studies in biology, phlebotomy, and medical assisting. A friend pointed me to an open position with a research project that was right up my alley, in that it focused on testing a risk-reduction tool among non-injection drug users and their sexual and drug-using networks whose sexual orientations were diverse. In summary, we learned that risk-behavior is challenging to decrease, especially over time and that the MSM in the study were at higher risk than their heterosexual counterparts.

HIV vaccine research, to me, was a chance to contribute to my communities who were most at risk of getting HIV by exposing them to an intervention that could potentially prevent new infections with an injection (or 4). This is my driving force. The fact that the first drug, Truvada, used for PrEP to prevent HIV was discovered along with HPV vaccines gives me much hope that we will one day find an effective vaccine against HIV.

I would be remiss not to acknowledge that together, my family at the Columbia Research Unit, from the PI to me, all bust our butts to do the best we can while keeping ourselves in good spirits. This makes going to work a pleasure as we push forward with our scientific agenda.

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Jemal Shelton
Jemal Shelton

Jemal Shelton

CAB Chair, Emory Hope Clinic CRS, Atlanta, GA, USA

As a child, Jemal Shelton held preconceived notions about the healthcare profession as being only a place for nurses and doctors; however, he was later enlightened to the varied opportunities in the healthcare field. Jemal remembers enrolling in a health course where he had to investigate his family medical history. He discovered that in his family were persons who had suffered from HIV, diabetes, asthma, strokes, seizures, cancer, and heart attack, and during this time his curiosity peaked.

HIV research became an area of interest to him in 2012, during matriculation of his Master of Science in Human Services. Jemal's research was based on HIV among youth living in the United States. However, in 2016, his focus transitioned toward the LGBT community, and primarily MSM, in Atlanta, GA. In 2017, Jemal started his journey with the HVTN as a volunteer with Emory School of Medicine Hope Clinic as a CAB member, where he later became the CAB Chair. The HVTN has enhanced his knowledge about prevention, education, and awareness surrounding his local community. Jamel notes he has had a superb experience working with HVTN. The diverse backgrounds among the staff and CAB members help to bring about social change throughout Atlanta.

Jemal has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Administration Information Management and Master of Science in Human Services. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Public Health with a specialization in Epidemiology, where he can continue to focus his HIV research on the LGBT community.

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