The SALUS project is an evidenced-based school engagement programme piloted by The Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa (CIDRI-Africa) in 2019 in the Umtata Region of Eastern Cape, South Africa.
The programme was informed by two previous phases of research exploring how communication strategies can effectively engage young people with biomedical science related to HIV treatment. The outcome of the research was the development of a new approach to communication and engagement that addresses key challenges that exist within the marginalised communities of South Africa. Currently, there remains a dearth of HIV knowledge among community members, resulting in confusion about both the nature of the disease and treatment.
The SALUS approach to public engagement addresses these challenges by locating engagement in the communicative cultural dynamics that frame communication within the South African context. These comprise two factors, Ubuntu (belonging) and the oral tradition of storytelling.
The pilot was conducted at the KT Mchasa School and comprised three modules of engagement with the aim of empowering youth to break free of the fear of HIV stigma, enabling them to talk freely about the disease, treatment and become inquisitive about previous and current research and its relevance to them and their community.
Objectives and Outcomes
Objective 1: To facilitate group discussion about HIV, and to empower learners to encourage ‘talk’ within their school and wider community.
Outcome: Pupils showed high levels of excitement and motivation to talk about HIV science, treatment and to encourage acceptance and support of one another and wider community members. This is evidenced in many of the completed mission statements and class-room discussions captured in the project’s documentary film (above).
Objective 2: To increase learning and knowledge about HIV, treatment and how the outcomes of scientific research changes lives.
Outcome: The fusion of digital animation and storytelling facilitated discussion among the learners, enabling openness and collective learning experience. Meaningful learning was evidenced by many young people saying that they felt ‘liberated’ from the fear of HIV because they had a new understanding of how scientific research had provided medication that enables people to live long normal lives. Some became excited about becoming researchers themselves, while others showed a keen interest in learning more about current HIV research activity. The local Department of Health clinic noted a two-fold increase in attendance by young people (mainly from the school).
Objective 3: To empower youth to become the communicators in their community – becoming the central actors of engagement within their community.
Outcome: 250 learners downloaded SALUS content to their smartphones (recorded during the sessions) and reported sharing that content with members of their WhatsApp groups. It was not possible during this pilot to track how many people chose to view the content, although many participants reported having had WhatsApp discussions and positive engagement about it with friends. Based upon feedback and reporting, WhatsApp group dissemination was estimated at approx. 7–8,000.
The Department of Education (DoE) and the school Principal granted permission to conduct the programme among pupils aged between 14–19 years. The Department of Health (DoH) gave permission to gather baseline data and verify reported outcomes from the school’s local HIV clinic.
Monitoring and Evaluation
A series of questionnaires and data collection forms were used to collect participant information, attendance, smartphone ownership, digital communication activity and samples of content. Interviews were captured using film. Themes determined from interviews were used to inform the final edit of the participatory story film.
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