We had the opportunity to speak with Ndumiso about his PhD project and find out more about what young men living with and affected by HIV in Cape Town expect from HIV services.
Can you tell us about your work and why you decided to pursue a career in the HIV field?
I am a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and an early-career socio-behavioural scientist at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation. I have a long-held interest in HIV and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in adolescents and young men, particularly in investigating interventions that improve accessibility and uptake of SRHR, HIV prevention and treatment services among young men. Growing up in the township of KwaMashu, Durban, I saw many friends and family members affected by HIV. Unfortunately, due to stigma, one could not openly engage in dialogue about it. There came a point where I was attending funerals every other month, losing friends and family members to AIDS. I thought, “Enough is enough. I want to do something about this. If not me, then who? And if not now, then when?” Thereafter, I made it a priority to actively participate in HIV research, advocate, educate and bring awareness. I continue expanding my experience in this field by pursuing a PhD to understand what young men want from health services.
Please provide a bit more detail on the setting in which you are conducting your PhD work
My research is conducted in the Klipfontein/Mitchells Plain district in Cape Town. This is a peri-urban setting and a high HIV disease burden area, where the use of health services by young men is suboptimal. It is crucial to target men when it comes to preventing HIV. The men’s dialogues I conduct are male-focused, involving a participatory process.
Based on the community dialogues you have conducted, what are the key barriers for young men to seeking health services and what are the strategies to overcome these?
The objective of the dialogues is to create a safe space where men can unpack gender norms and stereotypes in relationships and men’s roles in society. A key theme that has emerged is that men perceive SRHR services as female-centric and uninviting for men. Also, men fear judgment and being threatened in their masculinity. Men want fast, convenient, non-judgmental services that meet them in spaces they already frequently navigate. Findings from my research will be used to inform community interventions that may be implemented in future trials, as well as to inform policy.