The role of communication in supporting community engagement in HIV clinical trials: the case of the HIV prevention trials network 071 study in Zambia.

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Mulawa, Mulanda Joseph
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The University of Zambia
Community based interventions and research are often affected by communication challenges. Community Engagement (CE) has thus become an integral part of the process of communication within public health interventions. However, the effectiveness of CE strategies depend on what information is communicated and how well it is communicated. The aim of the study therefore, was to explore the role of communication in CE processes in the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 071 Population Effects of Antiretroviral Treatment to Reduce HIV Transmission (PopART) in Zambia. This was a qualitative case study conducted in two purposively selected HPTN 071 PopART communities from Livingstone and Lusaka Districts. Thematic analysis was used to analyse data collected that was from focused group discussions, key informant interviews and document review. HPTN 071 PopART employed both direct and representative CE. Direct engagement included the use of community meetings, door-to-door sensitisations, and facility based health talks while representative engagement used community Advisory Boards (CABs). Awareness creation strategies comprised of Video/film, IECs, drama, community meetings and the door to-door community sensitisations. Study implementers and community members felt door-to door was the best approach to use when introducing a program and when explaining complex issues within the study. However, it was established that IECs such as posters and flyers were not translated into local languages, posing a challenge to people who could not read English. Further, HPTN 071 PopART study did not have modes of communication for the visually and hearing impaired because none of the IEC materials were in brail format and none of the videos/film featured sign language interpreters. Communication approaches in HPTN 071 PopART helped support community engagement and participation by reducing the myths and misconceptions that people had towards the study. Communication through various media channels helped create mutual understanding and trust between the study team and the community because the approaches used to communicate required direct contact with the HPTN 071 PopART study participants. However, there is need to cater for the information needs of all people, including people with disabilities because such people are usually left out in the implementation of various interventions.
Thesis of Master of Public Health-Health Promotion and Education with Implementation Research