It’s time to change “the talk”

May 9, 2017

South African clinic pilots HIV health promotion toolkit created in partnership with MacEwan prof


A year ago Mona Haimour, an assistant professor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, stood in a gym packed with 80 teenagers, trying to settle her nerves before starting her talk on HIV prevention. The bright, young (and many of them giggling) faces in front of her were students at a school in Durban, South Africa—right in the heart of the country’s ongoing HIV epidemic.

Mona’s primary message that day wasn’t about abstinence or condoms (although they were certainly part of the discussion). Instead, she was testing out a new approach to HIV education in the area—one created in partnership with community health educators at the Blue Roof Wellness Centre, a clinic that specializes in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

“We really wanted to focus on the social and cultural needs of the students,” says Mona. “So we looked at things through a different lens—one that was evidence-informed, rights-based and focused on their growth and development as youth, their mental well-being, their decision-making and risk-assessment skills, and access to health and social resources in their community.”

That meant that rather than showing dated videos and simply telling youth not to engage in risky sexual behaviour, educators would focus on helping youth build knowledge and skills to make informed, positive choices about their bodies and their health.

“ I hope that this toolkit will play a part in helping youth at a time when they are most at risk for HIV.” Mona Haimour 

“We don’t just say, ‘You have to use condoms all the time.’ We know that’s the best practice and we do talk about it, but at the same time, we focus on other aspects of life that are important to adolescents at a time when they are the most at risk of contracting HIV,” says Mona.

Her health promotion sessions at the school and an orphan home in Durban, along with the six weeks she spent there collecting data, looking at existing resources, conducting interviews and doing an environmental scan, were the first steps toward creating what would become a comprehensive health promotion toolkit now being piloted by the outreach team at the Blue Roof.

South Africa has the highest incidence of HIV in the world. In spite of strides in HIV treatment, an estimated 7 million people (about one in eight South Africans) are HIV positive.

Since the summer of 2016, Mona has been working collaboratively with the Blue Roof team via conference calls and emails to build the toolkit, and to train educators on how to implement its evidence-based lesson plans, classroom activities and evaluation tools.

In early 2017, she packed up the entire toolkit, complete with resources (cards, role-play scenarios and videos), and mailed it to the facility in South Africa. Since then, the community health outreach team has been piloting it—running education sessions and collecting feedback. They plan to present the outcomes of the pilot phase at an annual conference on HIV/AIDS this summer in Durban.

Mona is hopeful that the approach, which is used in other places around the world but is new in Durban, will resonate with the youth she met that day a year ago in their school gym.

“Standing in front of those students was so touching,” she says. “They really seemed to love the experience, and I saw the difference a new approach can make. I hope that this toolkit will play a part in helping youth at a time when they are most at risk for HIV.” 

The project has ties directly to Mona’s graduate studies in public and global health (she has also created a conceptual framework for integrated innovation in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals) and her passion for advocacy. Both of these themes also make their way into her classroom, including her Winter 2017 NURS 424 course where students looked at issues that affect vulnerable populations.

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