Wits RHI Receives Funding from Elton John AIDS Foundation and Launches ‘What We Want’ Study

22 May 2024

Elton John AIDS Foundation Funding

The Key Populations Programme is elated to announce the receipt of funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) in May 2024 to conduct a mixed method prospective study to assess the acceptability, feasibility, and effectiveness of the use of HIV self-testing (HIVST) via primary and secondary distribution in transgender individuals (TGI) and their social networks in South Africa.

This study will be implemented over one and a half years at four sites in Gauteng, Western Cape, and the Eastern Cape using a convenience sample of 1,000 consenting TGI and their social networks (TGI and non-TGI). HIVST is an innovative, technology-enhanced way of increasing HIV service uptake by TGI who fear stigma and discrimination, thereby addressing gaps in HIV service delivery to TGI. It also empowers TGI and their social networks to ‘know and act’ on their status and to initiate either HIV prevention or treatment services. To conduct this study, Wits RHI has partnered with Gender Dynamix (GDX), a public benefit organisation, which invests in and supports nascent trans-led and -specific organisations in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region.

The study will provide pertinent information that can guide the implementation of the Centres of Excellence and inform policy on the expansion of HIVST to clients not routinely accessing HIV testing services. The study will generate much needed data around the uptake and yield of HIVST via primary and secondary distribution and subsequent linkage to care (PrEP or ART initiation). In addition, it will also address the dearth of knowledge regarding the acceptability of HIVST and secondary distribution of HIVST, which is currently not practiced at NDoH facilities. We are excited to conduct this study and are looking forward to the findings that will strengthen the provision of HIV services to TGI and their social networks.

Kick-off for the “What We Want” Study

The Key Populations programme is also pleased to announce the commencement of “What We Want” study in May 2024 under the MATRIX consortium, with PATH as the prime. PATH’s mission is to advance health equity through innovation and partnerships, and is leading the MATRIX Technology Accelerator Domain 1, which funds pilot game-changer research for innovative HIV prevention or dual-purpose (prevention of HIV and pregnancy) products and innovative solutions to address a key challenge in HIV prevention.

Dr. Nireshni Naidoo (the project’s Principal Investigator) will lead a best practice working group (BPWG), comprising members from Wits RHI, Pangaea Zimbabwe, and LVCT Health (Kenya) to develop best practices for the collection, standardisation, and dissemination of socio-behavioral research (SBR) data and research outcomes related to female sex worker (FSW) preferences for the design and implementation of multipurpose HIV prevention technologies in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Collectively, our depth of multidisciplinary programmatic and research experience with FSWs in Eastern and Southern Africa will allow us to access diverse and hard-to-reach FSW communities to optimise the collection, standardisation, and communication of SBR data and research outcomes to researchers, end users, and other stakeholders across preclinical development and clinical studies. The BPWG’s main output will be piloted end-user data collection methods and tools with a data collection adaptation guide reflecting best practices to support use across diverse groups of FSWs. We look forward to the collaboration and the achievements towards improving HIV prevention in FSWs in South Africa and beyond.

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