HIV/AIDS Unit staff profiles

26 May 2002

Joining up: Ciru Mukoma (left) is the new researcher in the HIV/AIDS Unit at Protem, and Emma Durden the new Information Education and Communication (IEC) officer. Their individual expertise has bolstered the Unit's education and awareness capacity.

THE URGENT need for HIV/AIDS education and awareness is growing nationally as the disease starts to take a heavy toll on the country. At UCT the HIV/AIDS Unit's expertise includes Emma Durden and Wanjiru (Ciru) Mukoma.

Durden is the Unit's new Information Education and Communication (IEC) officer and Mukoma has joined up as the Unit's new researcher.

Durden's path to the AIDS education arena has been through drama. A graduate of Rhodes University, she joined the Natal Performing Arts Council (NAPAC) for a short stint as a professional actress before becoming involved with Dramaide and various NGOs where theatre was used as the main training medium in AIDS education. She is also familiar with the media world and has contributed as a writer to the arts pages of the Mail & Guardian. Durden is best known for her book Communicating Beyond AIDS Awareness.

Much of Durden's focus will be her work with a wide variety of students (both within and outside the academic curriculum) to develop HIV/AIDS information, education and communication materials in a manner that has been shown to be most effective. This will include posters, drama, radio, websites, etc. The materials will be developed in a participatory manner and will address issues that are not being addressed in other media about HIV and AIDS. Material will also be evaluated to determine impact.

Durden will also run an anonymous Q&A site, which will enable students who are willing to come forward and ask questions about HIV and AIDS to get answers and information without being identified.

She is also developing new and innovative workshops on HIV and AIDS. "These are critical in order to ensure behavioural change among students," she said. These are seen as resources that can be shared with other organisations.

Mukoma, who hails from Kenya, completed her Master's degree in Sociology at UCT in 1999 and is no stranger to health issues. She based her thesis, Towards a Health Promoting University, on student health at UCT, examining a variety of health issues, from nutrition (part of Mukoma's survey included surveys of the food dished up to students by the various eateries on Campus, including the vending machines and stall holders) to smoking.

"My two main activities within the Unit are research and lectures," she explained. "My job is have develop a more systematic way of assessing our activities in the Unit, to be sure that we respond to what students need in the manner in which they want us to deliver the message." Mukoma will develop new training and awareness programmes as well as student workshops.

Importantly, the HIV/AIDS Unit had a "promotional slot" in all faculty orientation programmes at the beginning of the academic year and the results of the questionnaire handed out to students will provide Mukoma with solid information on the levels of understanding among first-year students of HIV/AIDS education and awareness. "These students also attended a SHARP workshop on HIV/AIDS where we were able to conduct pre- and post-tests," she added.

"Many students have a high basic knowledge if these issues, so our primary purpose will be to develop campaigns, lectures and material that will change behaviour.

"We're going to be involved in a behaviour surveillance project over a period of time, to see whether there is any change towards safer behaviour."

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