SATuRN and the Africa Centre Bioinformatics Unit are involved in many community engagement activities. Over the last years we have presented on eight occasions to the community around Africa Centre. The presentations are focused on the origin of HIV, the causes and consequences of drug resistance development and how to successfully manage HIV and TB treatment.
For example, we presented three times to primary schools (children aged 6 to 10) in the Umkhanyakude district in 2010. This series of presentations used cartoons that portray HIV as a lion (Ibhubesi translation in Zulu), CD4 cells as soldiers (Amasosha, Zulu translation) and that show how ARVs make the soldiers stronger as they provide them with armour. The Head of external relations at Africa Centre, Mr. Mbongiseni W. Buthelezi, also attended this series of presentations. He was excited by the presentation and commented 'Thank you so much for your superb presentation to a group of Somkhele Primary school learners. You really rose to the occasion given their level of cognitive development. I have no doubt that such a graphic presentation drove the message home. One could see the faces of the kids beaming with excitement!'
In 2010 and 2011, a second series of three presentations was delivered to the Africa Centre Community Advisory Board (CAB), which has 75 participants from the local community and traditional authority. In this series of presentations, a physician (Dr. Richard Lessells) and a researcher (Dr. Tulio de Oliveira) explained the effect of detectable viral load on immune reconstitution and drug resistance development. The presentations were very well received and the head of the CAB asked for a full day (6 hours section) on the topic, which was very well attended by members of CAB and the community and generated great discussions.
As part of an end of the year function to high achievers at Matric level in 2010, Dr. Tulio de Oliveira presented at Grantleigh High school, in Empangeni. The graphical presentation explained that HIV originated from primates in West and West Central Africa and then infected humans, similar to tuberculosis (TB) from Bovine in cows, or buffalo as experienced locally; dispelling the myth that HIV was unique. Janet McGrath, Head of Department of Sciences, said: 'Grantleigh saw a need for their academically talented students to be exposed to a scientific and cultural enrichment programme in order to inspire them.' Illuminating science to students is another demonstration of Africa Centre's commitment to HIV research and interaction with the local community whilst maintaining its professional status in population-, clinical- and social science studies'. This event was covered by the Zululand Observer newspaper.
Recently, in December 2011, the Africa Centre bioinformatics unit and SATuRN helped two social workers to fund and present a summer camp workshop to adolescents failing ARVs in the clinics served by Africa Centre. The camp was attended by 22 adolescents (12-17 years) and presented over 4 days and involved many activities and presentations. A new blog entitled Social Worker perspective: Adolescents on Antiretroviral (ARV) therapy - a VideoBlog has been published.