Study staff as they writing down their reflections on their challenges encountered during their course of duty, successes, lessons learned, and their experiences
The HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 2017 annual meeting brought together researchers from its clinical trials involved in HIV prevention in countries across the world. Zambart, is part of a consortium of international researchers currently conducting the world’s largest HIV prevention trial in 21 communities in Zambia and South Africa.
The Zambart Community Engagement (CE) team on the HPTN 071(PopART) Trial won the Best Community Engagement Award for outstanding performance in mobilising the biggest community randomised HIV prevention study in the world. During the course of the four year study, Zambart’s CE team has developed novel strategies to engage, sustain, and work together with other study groups to increase participants for the trial, including ancillary studies nested with the main trial.
On August 15, 2017 Zambart joined other health stakeholders and participated in the annual HIV Testing, Counselling and Treatment (HTCT) Day event spearheaded by the Ministry of Health (MoH). National HTCT Day (previously National VCT Day) is held to raise public awareness on HIV prevention and treatment. During this year’s event, the President of Zambia Edgar Lungu announced the government shift to routine HIV testing and treatment in all health facilities in the country.
Zambart’s objective of participating in this event was to support HIV prevention and treatment, and showcase some of the organisation’s innovative activities aimed at enhancing uptake of HIV testing and treatment.
Across all its research sites on the Copperbelt, Central, Lusaka, and Southern provinces, Zambart field teams mobilised and conducted various community engagement and sensitisation activities in different zones, and participated in the district-level commemorations held under the theme: “HIV Test and Treat: Towards Ending AIDS”. The activities were also aimed to increase awareness about HTCT Day.
Zambart conducted satellite outreach activities in the communities prior to HTCT Day. The activities included offering free HIV Counselling and Testing, linkage to care, screening for Tuberculosis and Sexually Transmitted Infections, distribution of lubricants, condoms and information and education materials, and providing HIV health talks and counselling to adolescents in Youth Friendly Corners in Zambart supported clinics.
All 618 study staff shared their reflections and experiences and contributed to building of this PopART study reflection tree from their day to day work implementing study.
On August 8-11, about 700 staff members on the HPTN 071 (PopART) trial in Zambia, gathered in the small resort fishing town of Siavonga, south of the capital Lusaka, for their last annual refresher training and retreat before the end of study intervention activities later in December 2017. Organizers brought together all the study staff from the 12 PopART sites, including central Zambart office in one place. This was a huge undertaking by the study leadership and Zambart management.
The PopART trial is the world’s largest community randomized HIV prevention study involving an estimated 1.2 million people in 21 large population communities in two Southern African countries: Zambia and South Africa. Since 2013, international and Zambian researchers have been measuring the impact of combined HIV prevention intervention methods including universal testing and treatment and door-to-door HIV Counselling and Testing, and active referral.
The training included team building sessions. Team leaders and managers mentored Community HIV Care Providers (CHiPs) in delivery of the final study messages to prepare communities for the end of the study, data collection, orientation in HIV Self-testing, and reviewed enrolment of households participating in the study. Population Cohort (PC) and Phylogenetics scientists and technologists reviewed the upcoming final round of PC activities and Xpert Tuberculosis (TB) testing including other laboratory based activities and protocol training. The r Social Science team reviewed stigma tools for the qualitative cohort and activities conducted under the PopART Story of the Trial.
Zambart Chief Executive Officer Dr Alwyn Mwinga commended the PopART study team in Zambia for their dedication to delivering a complex study such as PopART, through the work that they do.
We have achieved what we set out to do. This study must be written up and put in history books because it is such an interesting research,
she said during the formal opening of the training.
Site Principal Investigator Dr Helen Ayles said that the PopART trial was an extraordinary study and was by far the biggest study on HIV prevention ever done. She thanked all the study staff for their hard work and dedication,
You have been amazing, and I want to thank you for such a job well done. This is something that can be rolled out at national scale.
Dr Ayles, explained to the study team the forthcoming end of study intervention activities on 31st December, 2017.
“This has always been a study and we have always had a limited life span. You have managed to reach more young people, and more individuals who had previously not tested for HIV,”
she said, and unveiled plans for continued lower level PopART intervention related activities. These included the on-going Community ART, HIV Self-Testing and measuring the prevalence of TB in PopART.
“It is going to be different, but there will still be research activities going on in our sites after the PopART intervention end, for example we will also do more work with adolescents and in social science,”
Dr Ayles said.
Trainers used the opportunity of having everyone together to reflect on the various challenges, experiences and lessons learned by the different study teams during the course of the trial. This generated a deep introspective discussion and brought out poignant aspects of the trial. This was colorfully depicted through the building of the gigantic PopART study reflection tree. This was a hands-on and exciting time for all study staff. The study teams received awards in various categories and concluded the training on a high note in select sporting activities such as soccer, volley ball and boat cruises on Lake Kariba.