Community engagement workshop empowers Community Advisory Boards

On 13 November, the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC)’s HIV Prevention Research Unit (HPRU) conducted a workshop in Westville for members of the Community Advisory Boards (CABs). The programme was coordinated by the HPRU community liaison officers (CLOs) with support from the community research assistants and the fieldworkers.

The more than seventy members of the CABs in attendance represented HPRU’s different Clinical Research Sites (CRS) including Botha’s Hill, Chatsworth, Isipingo, Phoenix, Tongaat and Verulam. Held annually, the main objective of the workshop was to review performance for the year ending and to plan for 2020. The platform also sought to standardize the work of the CAB members and explore ways of expanding community networking and engagement.

In her address, HPRU’s Interim Deputy Director and Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) Principal Investigator, Dr Elizabeth Spooner reminded the CAB members of their importance in communities – to assist with the enrollment of participants, managing potential conflicts and ensuring that the research intentions of the SAMRC are clearly relayed to surrounding communities. She emphasised the importance of establishing a positive relationship between the CAB and communities to gather the much-needed understanding of the affected community and its needs. “You are key role players in community engagement and act as critical links between the SAMRC and the communities within which we conduct clinical trials,” she added.

In addition, Dr Spooner introduced the Unit’s new leadership including Prof Ameena Goga, the Interim Unit Director and Clinical Trials Unit (CTU) Principal Investigator, who addressed the CABs. Dr Spooner spoke briefly on the next grant cycle –the KZN CTU (CAPRISA and SAMRC). She also gave an update of the current active and introduction of new studies – the new ones include: the GARDP Zoliflodacin study that will be conducted at Tongaat and Botha’s Hill Clinical Research Sites and EDCTP PrEP-Vacc study that will be conducted at the Verulam CRS.

CAB members also benefited greatly from the Gender Based Violence presentation that covered topics such as what is GBV, hate crime, women to women abuse and basic human rights. Another engaging presentation was on retention based on their experiences, CAB members discussed how retention can be improved, what they think is the reason for low retention. In the end CAB members expressed their appreciation towards being collaborators of the HPRU research programme. The SAMRC acknowledged the CAB members’ contributions with a certificate of attendance.