8 Harvard University students are in KZN for a unique HIV research internship

KwaZulu-Natal has welcomed eight students from one of the world’s top tertiary institutions, Harvard University, for an intensive internship programme to learn about important HIV-prevention and cure research in South Africa.

Six of the eight internship finalists will spend the next two months in the Durban area, at either the Females Rising Through Education, Support and Health (FRESH) clinical research site in Umlazi’s W Section, or one of the research laboratories, the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) or the HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP). 

Two interns will be based at Edendale Hospital in Pietermaritzburg where they will work with ITEACH, an NGO that is a longstanding partner of the KZN Department of Health and focused on improving TB and HIV care in under-resourced communities. 

FRESH is a unique clinical study that combines HIV cure research with an empowerment programme for young Umlazi women, including computer and job skills training.

First trip to South Africa

The undergraduate students were selected by a committee that included senior HIV scientists from AHRI and HPP at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R. Mandela Medical School. It is the first trip to South Africa for all eight students, and six of them were recently invited to attend a umembeso – a traditional Zulu engagement party on the KZN South Coast.

In an opportunity to engage in global health research, Dr Krista Dong, the clinic director of the FRESH study explained that the students will be paired with local doctoral and post-doctoral candidates who are engaging in cutting edge HIV-research with leaders in the field.

“We loved the idea of bringing Harvard students over to work side-by-side with their South African peers. Having their first exposure to research here in KZN, at the centre of the epidemic, will shape the way they look at healthcare and the kind of leaders they will become in the future,” said Dong.

Internship a 'transformative experience'

“This internship will give me a chance to participate in HIV-research with people who are passionate about developing a cure,” said Mazuba Siamatu, a second-year Zambian student at Harvard. For Siamatu, conducting research at the epicentre of the HIV/Aids epidemic is a “transformative experience”.

Nellie Ide, a third-year Harvard student from Minnesota, added that she finds the internship unique since the projects she will be involved in will have a real impact on the FRESH programme and the future of HIV-research. “It is very exciting because I am able to learn many new skills and experience personal growth, while also making a positive impact on people’s lives,” she added.

Dong concluded by saying that although this is the first year of the internship programme, they’d like to see it continue for many years so that there can be a longstanding collaboration between Harvard and South African researchers.

Image: Supplied

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