A Brief Introduction: HIV Research in Swaziland

by Loxley Denzil Christopher Bennett II, Columbia College Senior majoring in neuroscience & behavior

Next Generation Fellows

Me in the first row, bottom left, and the other Next Generation Fellows (photo credit: ICAP)

For the past few weeks, I have been working with ICAP.  Although the organization is only 10 years old, it has played an instrumental role in global health, particularly in scaling up HIV prevention and care by working with institutions in sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia.  Even as a senior at Columbia, I’m still impressed when I discover a new way that Columbia University is making the world a better place through advancements in everything from medicine and public health to social justice.

However, three years at Columbia have taught me to maintain a critical eye in all matters, especially the ones that seem benevolent; and this skill served me well as I searched for ways to spend this summer. ICAP was one of very few programs I found that allows students to participate in a project that 1) provides a sustainable and significant impact on the global community and 2) is conducted in conjunction with local physicians and researchers as a collaborative effort. With its international teams of experts and funding from PEPFAR (the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), ICAP has already brought us so much closer towards an AIDS-free generation. Even though I’m just a lowly research fellow, the ICAP team in Swaziland will use my work to continue improving approaches to HIV treatment and I have the fantastic opportunity of immersing myself in Swazi medicine, society, and culture by working with their medical pioneers.

The collaboration and partnership between the U.S. and Swazi experts who designed and conducted this study also allows me to serve the global community as an American without feeling like an imperialist…which is nice.  The common narrative surrounding Americans swooping in to “fix” or “save” foreign worlds in fifteen minutes abroad and humanitarian and medical tourism in general are lethal to both the ethereal world of bioethics and to the real world where quick, interventions from the outside are substituted for sustainable change.

Loxley and Zebra

Me in Nisela at a safari with a zebra that was absolutely obsessed with me!

While in Swaziland, I’m trading True Blood for hunting in Maloma. I’m trading lazy days on the beach for bumpy rides on safaris.  And most importantly, I’m trading a summer working and studying in the U.S. healthcare system for a transformative fellowship researching HIV and antiretroviral therapy (ART) in Swaziland.  In a nutshell, I collect patient information from the 20 hospitals and health centers participating in ICAP’s Link4Health study in Swaziland and use that data to gauge the risk of initiating ART.

In upcoming posts, you should expect to see a lot more about yours truly, my work with ICAP in Swaziland, and some musings on medicine, bioethics, and the intersection between science and social justice.

Salani kahle (Stay well).

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