With the relatively recent, large-scale rollout of antiretroviral treatment in South Africa, a generation of children who were born HIV-positive and who were not expected to live beyond the age of 5 will soon become adolescents.
Judging from other countries with longstanding access to these drugs, many of the South African youth will exhibit risk behaviors such as skipping their doctor’s appointments or engaging in sexual and drug risk-taking—with consequences for both their own health and public health.
Now the McSilver Institute on Poverty Policy and Research, housed in the Silver School of Social Work, has been awarded a $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to meet the urgent need to develop effective and sustainable HIV prevention and treatment approaches for this unprecedentedly large population of perinatally HIV-infected (PHIV-positive) young people, and their families. The study also aims to increase our understanding of behavioral and health risks in this emerging adolescent population.
The five-year McSilver Institute study will enroll 360 PHIV-positive early adolescents in KwaZulu-Natal, a South African province with one of the highest rates of children born HIV-positive. It will examine the impact of the research-based Vuka Family Program, a household-based intervention that uses illustrated cartoons to convey information to families, promote overall physical and mental health, and reduce behavioral risks.
If the program is shown to be successful, the study will also examine what it would take to expand its reach, looking at factors such as staff delivery skill, clinic organizational challenges, perception of burden, and implementation constraints.
“These children and their families reside in some of the most impoverished communities in South Africa,” says Mary McKay, principal investigator and director of the McSilver Institute. “The goal of this intervention is to address the multitude of health and developmental needs in a way that is culturally sensitive and sustainable.”