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.