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-Saharan 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!