By: Neetha S. Morar and Ishina Hemchund, HPRU/SAMRC, Durban, South Africa
The HIV Prevention Research Unit (HPRU) of the South African Medical Research Council held a one day workshop for all volunteers participating in HIV vaccine and infusion studies, including HVTN100, HVTN111, HVTN702 and HVTN703/HPTN081. The workshop was hosted by Neetha Morar, Senior Research and Community Manager at the HPRU Head Office in Westville. Most participants visited the offices for the first time and they were exposed to the central hub of all research activities. Participants were young, vibrant, energetic, enthusiastic and willing to listen and engage with researchers. Upon arrival they were registered and served light refreshments. Mduduzi Ngubane, Community Liaison Officer, facilitated the workshop together with volunteers from the Peer Programme. All discussions were in the local language of the participants, and staff assisted with translations when required, but most of the participants engaged in the discussion in both English and IsiZulu. A grand total of 97 participants attended the workshop and were transported from different areas in the eThekwini District.
The Clinical Trials Unit Principal Investigator, Prof. Gita Ramjee, addressed all the participants and personally thanked them for their contribution toward finding an effective HIV vaccine. The workshop focused on the importance of finding an HIV vaccine in South Africa, as it is burdened with the highest incidence and prevalence of HIV in the world, particularly in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Participants were able share their experiences, motivations, and challenges about participating in HIV prevention research. The workshop created a platform for everyone to ask researchers questions and make suggestions. Women were excited to see that men have joined studies, as previously many previous studies focused only on women. Many of the discussions were around VISP, pregnancy in trials, PrEP, and general health and wellbeing.
A concern was raised regarding the exclusion of pregnant women participating in HIV vaccine trials, because participants see pregnant women in the clinic. Neetha explained that no one is enrolled into the HIV prevention studies if they are pregnant, however, women sometimes do become pregnant while they are enrolled. It was explained that they will be followed during their pregnancy until they give birth to monitor their safety, but they do not receive any further injections or infusions of study products. Staff also follow-up to ensure that the baby is delivered safely.
The participants expressed appreciation for the health care and support they received from staff members. Participants who are part of the Peer Education Programme had the opportunity to facilitate and speak about their participation in the work they are doing in their communities.
*Neetha S. Morar is the Senior Research and Community Manager and Ishina Hemchund is the Research Assistant at the HIV Prevention Research Unit at the South African Medical Research Council in Durban, South Africa.