Phiwe Nota, a postdoctoral fellow at the Health Economics and HIV and AIDS Division (HEARD), has been awarded the Implementation Science Research Grant by the International Paediatric Symposium in Africa (IPHASA). IPHASA has awarded Dr Nota, under the supervision of Professor Gavin George, a 18-month implementation science grant. The IPHASA grant process is a competitive initiative and sought to award three early-career researchers in Africa, the other grant recipients are from Uganda and Kenya. The grant awards were announced at the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, which took place 29 July to 2 August 2022. Dr Nota and Prof George have been working together for the past two years on a monitoring and evaluation programme with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) aimed at the implementation of evidence-informed sexuality and HIV prevention education programs in schools. They are currently also developing a national framework for the DBE on Learner Support Agents (LSAs) in schools as part of psychosocial support provision in schools.

Dr Nota’s research will focus on the implementation of the Integrated School Health Policy (ISHP), focusing on KwaZulu-Natal Schools. The implementation of this policy requires intersectoral collaboration between the Department of Health (DoH), Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Department of Social Development (DSD). This research is critical because in many instances, adolescent girls in South Africa do not access the sexual and reproductive health services they need to prevent HIV infection (and other sexually transmitted diseases), unintended pregnancy, gender-based violence, and to receive psychosocial support.

Schools remain important in identifying vulnerable adolescent girls and linking them to services they need. School-going adolescents spend more time in schools than anywhere else, making schools ideal platforms for reaching this vulnerable population group. The South African government initiated the ISHP with the aim of improving the health of school-going children and youth, however schools, like other service sectors, are faced with an implementation gap where there is often slow adoption or uneven implementation of policy and evidence-based practices as part of routine service delivery, thus stalling the goal of improved learner health outcomes.

Dr Nota’s research will not only focus on the adoption and implementation of the ISHP but aims to provide recommendations to strengthen the coordination, collaboration, and adoption of the ISHP by the school, healthcare facilities and social development services.

The overall objective of the IPHASA grant award is to facilitate the translation of evidence and good practices in the paediatric HIV response for implementation and adaptation across the African continent. Dr Nota expressed that she feels honoured to have been awarded the grant and says “It is very exciting to advance the implementation research on paediatric HIV. A long road lies ahead in strengthening the implementation of policy, but research such as this have the potential to bring positive change. I am grateful for the mentorship I received from my supervisor during the grant proposal development and most grateful to God for this prestigious grant award”.

This grant includes additional funding for the recipients to attend IPHASA 2023 to present the research findings.