Ntando Yola is the HPTN Community Working Group Co-Chair as well as a community liaison and education officer with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) in Cape Town, South Africa. He works closely with national and international HIV prevention networks and various community stakeholders, developing and implementing community education programs, forming partnerships with health service providers and other community-based organizations.
1. How did you first get involved with the HPTN? I was a high school teacher and joined the field of HIV prevention research in 2004. At that time the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation was conducting community preparedness work for HIV vaccine studies in Cape Town. From there I became involved with microbicide research and in the recent past, became part of the HPTN family when we conducted HPTN 067/ ADAPT, a ground breaking PrEP behavioral study in young women.
2. What do you find most challenging about the work you do in support of the HPTN? Being a buffer of sorts between communities and scientists as this is where provisions and guidelines facilitate bringing two worlds together. Both sides have varied practices, cultures and beliefs on how best to reach an end goal; the excitement is to make one work with consideration of the other. It’s no secret that all of our work is driven by important, highly specialized and passionate individuals in their field. That’s naturally intimidating, but it’s what we often throw ourselves into as community engagement practitioners involved in this work. Not easy at all to hold a straight face and insist in raising voices at times on aspects that a collective of communities feel are important.
3. What do you think will change about HIV prevention over the next five years? PrEP availability, access and uptake will already be a common practice that allows adolescent girls, young women and many others who need it power of protection from acquiring HIV. I believe with the combined efforts of science, civil society, policy makers and governments this will be reality as focus continues to look at the next tools of HIV prevention.
4. What do you wish other people knew about your work? The efforts of clinical research from basic concepts to large scale trials are extremely important investments towards finding health solutions. All forms of medical treatment we enjoy today are a different type of miracle that takes a lot from varied scientific fields, communities who take part, civil society, media and most importantly people and governments who fund this work. Every individual in the world has a role to play and more people are needed to play that role so we can reach a solution faster.
5. What might (someone) be surprised to know about you? That I come from an extremely religious background and my mother works for a different aspect of healthcare through an organization called Healthcare Christian Fellowship.
6. What do you do when you aren't working? I make efforts to spend time with my nine-year-old son, close family and friends - enjoying this and that. I like going to the gymnasium and listening to music.