On 1 December 2011, the Medical Research Council (MRC) celebrated the tenth anniversary of the AfroAIDSinfo Project in conjunction with World AIDS Day (WAD). It was Prof Malegapuru Makgoba’s initial idea for the AfroAIDSinfo Project and Prof JA (Koos) Louw who took the idea further forming partnerships, obtained funds and on World AIDS Day 2002, the AfroAIDSinfo Project was launched following many brainstorming sessions. According to Dr Niresh Bhanwandin, this momentous occasion also saw the introduction of the first portal at the MRC. Victoria Ives-Deliperi who was appointed as the first AfroAIDSinfo Project Manager, commented on the vision for this project, “Our ambitions were to create a knowledge platform for a variety of audiences ranging from educators, the media and the general public, bringing them reliable information on HIV/AIDS that could help them prevent the disease.” This ambition is still true today and as such, has become the flagship project of the Web and Media Technology Platform (WMTP).
Activities during the celebrations: Looking at the past
The celebration was opened by MRC board Chairperson, Professor Lizo Mazwai, who welcomed everyone and congratulated the AfroAIDSinfo team on their achievements during the past 10 years. He emphasised the World AIDS Day theme for 2011: Getting to zero on new HIV incidence.
The keynote address was delivered by Ms Amanda Brinkmann, Special Advisor to the Minister of Health and Leader of Government Business of the Western Cape, Provincial Government. In her address she reiterated the fact that all should know their HIV status in order to have access to the life-prolonging antiretroviral medication. She also challenged individuals and organizations to be mindful of their own health to be able to meet the target of zero new infections.
Prof Gita Ramjee, Unit Director of HIV Prevention and Research, followed with an informative presentation which focused on the challenges faced in this field. Professor Ramjee quoted some of the latest statistics in HIV prevalence and incidence in sub-Saharan Africa and noted that this region accounted for:
68% of HIV infections worldwide
70% of new HIV infections among adults
90% of new HIV infections among children and
Almost 50% of the AIDS-related deaths worldwide
She mentioned all the current options for the prevention of HIV which include male and female condoms, harm reduction programmes, pre-exposure prophylaxis, STI treatment, male circumcision, behavioural intervention as well as voluntary counselling and testing. Promising new technologies in the field of HIV prevention include vaccines, the holy grail of HIV prevention, microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Of these, treatment for prevention and PrEP are currently showing the most promise with effects of 96% and 73 % respectively. She noted that successful prevention consists of a combination of various prevention strategies, as opposed to the use of a single strategy for prevention.
This part of the presentations was concluded with by Hendra van Zyl, the WMTP manager. She was involved in AfroAIDSinfo Project since its inception and saw it grow and develop over the last decade. Her presentation included an overview of the project achievements and highlighted the following:
2002 - 2004: The focus was to develop the portal and to populate it with reliable information on HIV and AIDS relevant to its five audiences.
2005: During this year the AfroAIDSinfo team started to develop models according to which scientific research could be translated into usable knowledge for the various target audiences.
2005 - 2007: During this period the AfroAIDSinfo Project initiated community projects which included:
A three year Pilot Project at two rural universities and one township school
HIV awareness events at various schools in disadvantaged communities
Peer Education as an HIV capacity building tool
The development of eResources aimed at dissemination to African collaborators
2007 - 2011: These years were marked by AfroAIDSinfo’s involvement in the empowerment of communities, HIV prevention and education events, the initiation of a collaborative eLearning projects and HIV Peer Education training integrated in an eHealth Promotion approach for school settings.
Mrs Van Zyl summarized the AfroAIDSinfo output during the past 10 years:
Radio interventions which included 49 podcasts and 2 phone-in radio programmes
Community empowerment, such as composing a song, a ringtone and line dancing sequences
Various curriculums were developed: NEPAD e-Schools Initiative, the HIV eLearning Programme and 15 sets of HIV activities at community events
17 technical and project reports
600 online articles, 15 articles published in other media and 60 articles published in national newspapers
NQF-aligned Peer Education Course
20 conference and workshop presentations
Three research studies
Five NRF interns hosted
She also gave the attendees a sneak preview of future developments. The AfroAIDSinfo Project will shortly become involved in capacity building of community health workers, scaling up of the eLearning programme and various educational projects.
Activities during the celebrations
At this momentous occasion, the Jesse Jordan Band and learners from two primary schools in Mitchell’s Plain demonstrated how, through community events, the AfroAIDSinfo Project has managed to successfully disseminate HIV information for the past decade. The band performed the inspirational song which they were commissioned to compose in 2010 especially for the project, names “Song of Hope”.
Learners and educators involved in the AfroAIDSinfo community projects performed typical HIV activities developed for them over the years. One group performed a line-dance to the Song of Hope while another performed a short drama. Educators from both primary schools gave brief descriptions of the changes which the AfroAIDSinfo Project had helped to bring about at their schools and in their communities. The peer education courses had given both educators and parents at these schools the confidence to talk openly about difficult topics and have ensured that the learners from these schools can enter high school armed with the knowledge they need to protect themselves.
A national non-governmental organization, Mothers2Mothers, supporting mothers who have already been through the process of prevention of transmission from mother to child, gave an overview of their activities and how they contribute to strengthening the health system in caring and supporting mothers visiting antenatal clinics. The work of this NGO is a perfect example of Getting to zero on new HIV incidence.
It is with grateful appreciation that the past 10 years could be celebrated festively. The AfroAIDSinfo team looks forward to continue channelling efforts towards informing, guiding and supporting communities and online audiences to reliable information on HIV and AIDS.