Harvard students in KZN for unique HIV cure research internship

2019-06-26 06:02
The students from Harvard who are currently in KZN.PHOTO: supplied

The students from Harvard who are currently in KZN.PHOTO: supplied

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EIGHT students from one of the USA’s top tertiary institutions, Harvard University, have arrived in KwaZulu-Natal for an intensive internship programme to learn about important HIV prevention and cure research under way in the South Africa.

The five women and three men arrived in the province earlier this month, where they will spend the next two months. For all eight Harvard undergrads, it’s their first trip to South Africa.

Drawn by the opportunity to engage in global health research, the eight internship finalists were selected by a committee that included senior HIV scientists from the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) and HIV Pathogenesis Programme (HPP) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R. Mandela Medical School, and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard.

Six of the students will be based 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, AHRI or HPP. The other two are based in Pietermaritzburg.

Fresh is a unique clinical study that combines HIV cure research with an empowerment programme for young Umlazi women that includes computer and job skills training. The Fresh project is the result of a collaboration between researchers from the Ragon Institute and the University of KZN.

“We loved the idea of bringing Harvard students over to work side-by-side with their South African peers. They’ll be paired with local doctoral and post-doctoral candidates who are engaging in cutting edge HIV research with leaders in the field, said Dr Krista Dong, clinical director of the Fresh study.

“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 Zambian, who’s about to enter his third year of studies at Harvard.

“This internship is unique because the projects that I’ll be involved with will have a real impact on the Fresh program 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,” said Nellie Ide, a third-year student from Minnesota.

“I believe it will be a transformative experience, conducting research at the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic ... under the supervision of scientists who share the same passion towards alleviating the suffering caused by the epidemic as I do,” added Siamatu.

The final 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.

“Having their first exposure to research here in KZN, at the centre of the epidemic, will shape the way they look at health care and the kind of leaders they will become in the future,” said Dong.

“This is the first year for the internship, but we’d like to see it continue for many years — to become a core part of the longstanding collaboration between Harvard and South African researchers here in KwaZulu-Natal.”

— Supplied.


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