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South Africa Trip Informs HIV Adherence Project

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Staff from the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) and a research partner from the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies recently traveled to South Africa to conduct on-site research for a digital counselor support tool designed to help HIV patients stay on their antiretroviral medication.

The tool is part of a project called Masivukeni, which translates to “Let's wake up!” in the Xhosa language. The HIV Center, CCNMTL, and the University of Cape Town recently received a $3 million NIMH grant to test whether patients who receive counseling through Masivukeni stay with their treatment plans better than those receiving standard counseling practices. Dr. Robert H. Remien, Professor of Clinical Psychology, is the principal investigator of the grant.

Masivukeni Counselors
Masivukeni brainstorming session with Jessica Rowe and the nurses and counselors of the Town II Clinic near Cape Town, South Africa.

CCNMTL senior program specialist Jessica Rowe, CCNMTL web designer Marc Raymond, and Dr. Reuben Robbins from the HIV Center worked with Dr. Kevin Stoloff of the University of Cape Town and counselors and nurses hired for the Masivukeni project. They visited two clinics outside Cape Town where the Masivukeni trial will take place. Focus groups tested the tools and gave feedback on how the content and design, from navigation to illustrations, can best connect with Masivukeni’s target audience.

A major reward of the 7,800 mile trip from New York City was learning how to design a program that fits into the culture and everyday experiences of South African HIV patients. “There are some things you can’t Google,” said Raymond. “For Masivukeni to fit into the rest of the media world of our South African participants, it has to feel familiar, which is a challenge for American designers.”

The Town II Clinic

Rowe stressed the importance of working directly with South African counselors and being present to get candid, detailed feedback. “It was great to hear responses to the tool in person," she said. "We wouldn’t have been able to receive the same response from the counselors remotely.”

The trip is CCNMTL’s second to the country; the first was in 2008, when a research team gathered information to build a pilot version of Masivukeni.

Since their return, Raymond and Rowe have begun work on design improvements, and the project counselors have worked with Dr. Stoloff and the Columbia team to rewrite a voice-over for the program. A joint team from CCNMTL and the HIV Center will travel to South Africa again in May to deploy the tool at the test clinics and train counselors.

Related news:
Dec-01-2011: CCNMTL Spotlights HIV Projects for World AIDS Day
Oct-03-2011: NIMH Awards New Grant to Extend Masivukeni Project
Sep-22-2010: Masivukeni Featured in HIV Center E-Newsletter
Jul-08-2009: Masivukeni Pilot Underway in South Africa
Mar-19-2009: SMART+SA Pilot Launches in South Africa This Week
Mar-31-2008: South Africa Trip Informs Drug Adherence Project
Dec-17-2007: NIMH Funds Masivukeni/SMART+SA Project