An effective project is based on scientific research

April 13, 2016

A good project is based on scientific research. This is why nearly all our projects have a research component, in which we collaborate with local and international universities. Research alongside our programmes on process, realities and need as well as effects, allows us to strengthen and redirect our intervention based on accurate data and information. Involvement of people living with HIV in our work and research is key. The participation and leadership of people living with HIV in shaping the way we think about HIV and in guiding the work we do increases the quality of our work and contributes to the goals we are trying to achieve.

By: Yvette Fleming - Programme manager STOP AIDS NOW!

Treatment is prevention

The MaxART programme is based on opinions and modeling of highly recognized and respected researchers1 as well as on a gap analysis in the national HIV response. It runs from 2011 to now. The programme anticipated on the scientific evidence that early treatment highly reduces the transmission of HIV, which became available in 2014. The gap analysis revealed a need to focus on hard to reach groups such as men and adolescents. Moreover it showed the importance to include local organisations and communities. Therefore during the first phase of MaxART we extensively researched the realities and needs on the ground so we could use the outcomes to maximize the effectiveness of the interventions.

Three researchers from Swaziland, with support from the University of Amsterdam, studied important barriers to accessing testing, treatment, and care for men and adolescents. The age of consent has been reported as the major obstacle for young people accessing an HIV test or other care. The systematic researched results has significantly contributed to more dialogue amongst professionals and in public arena around the issue and the age of consent was lowered from 16 to 12 years as a result. All three researchers that were contracted as researchers have been offered the opportunity to gain the PhD on the researched data and are all in the final stage of their promotion. 

Accessing SRH Services

An important study in Kenya as part of the ASK programme, identified barriers that young people aged 10-24, and young women in particular, are facing when accessing sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services in Kenya; such as opening hours or negative attitudes of health care providers. It provides recommendations on how to increase young people's access to SRH services such as by economically empowering HIV positive mothers. Making sure privacy and confidentiality of youth friendly services are guaranteed. And by  increasing outreaches to schools. 

Lobby activities by young people living with HIV

Research results are essential to support lobby activities. Young people living with HIV in Uganda and Zimbabwe, for example, researched support and services provided by the education, health and civil society sectors; the various key messages provided to young people living with HIV and whether they are evidence- and rights based, and; the capacity building needs of young people living with HIV. Amongst other things, the research demonstrated that the available care and support do not match the specific wishes of young people and that young people living with HIV often lack the capacity to make their voice heard and to participate effectively in national HIV and TB policy formulation, legislation, implementation and monitoring. 

Our future work

We believe in the importance to continue to improve our programmes as well as for lobby. In the coming years we will continue to do research as part of larger programmes. In 2015 we started with two new large programmes, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Get Up Speak Out: For Youth Rights and Beat the AIDS Epidemic. Also in these programmes research continue to play an essential role. We still face an enormous data gap among adolescents: 10-19 years old. What are their needs with regard to accessing information and services? What support is available and what are their needs? In the coming 4 years, we intend to include this age group more and gather relevant data about this key population. New and existing data can be used for better information, improved policy and decision making, and impact monitoring and advocacy. It enables us to reach our objectives faster and is key in ending the AIDS epidemic. 

Scalable models

Based on these new insights through research, we want to document scalable models for implementation. The documented models can serve as a start for a new program in another country or for other organisations to duplicate the model into their own implementation. For the coming years we will look for opportunities to scale up the MaxART model to at least one other African country. 

1 Julio Montaner: and, Reuben Granich:

This article was published in the STOP AIDS NOW! e-news April 2016: "Focus on research"