Notes from the AIDS2016 Conference in Durban, South Africa

Kara Leigh Redden

In July, I had the amazing opportunity to not only participate in the AIDS2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa, but to also present my research on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV with my Haitian co-investigator.

Kara and her co-investigator presenting their work at the AIDS2016 conference in Durban, South Africa.

Kara and her co-investigator presenting their work at the AIDS2016 conference in Durban, South Africa.

It was our first time in South Africa and our first time at such an internationally organized event focused on HIV/AIDS. The weeklong conference was jam packed with activities, events, speaker series, presentations and much more—so much more that it was impossible to fit everything in the five days we were there.

Among the many leaders speaking, we heard from Charlize Theron on the importance of recognizing HIV/AIDS as a human rights issue.

Actress Charlize Theron speaking on human rights issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Actress Charlize Theron speaking on human rights issues surrounding HIV/AIDS.

We also heard from Elton John and Prince Harry remarking on the importance of recognizing youth’s voices and vulnerability in efforts to end the burden of HIV/AIDS.

Sir Elton John speaking at the AIDS2016 conference.

Sir Elton John speaking on youth vulnerability at the AIDS2016 conference.

Most impressive was the participation of some of the most vulnerable groups affected by HIV—healthcare workers, trans-men and -women, sex workers, homeless populations, and members of aboriginal communities as well as the lesbian and gay community. While we still have a long way to go to ensure that the voices of these groups are represented, it was refreshing to be among those who are the most affected by HIV and the barriers that affect access to HIV care and services.  Because of this, we were graced by many leading HIV/AIDS activists who have spent their life standing up to big corporations and governments to make sure that those who need care the most can get access to that care.

Any trip to South Africa would not have been complete without paying homage to the great Nelson Mandela. We visited Mandela’s capture site where a monument was erected in his honour, constructed out of the very bars that held him captive for over 27 years.  I hope that he would have been proud of the great work being done in his country.

The monument marking Nelson Mandela's capture site in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

The monument commemorating Nelson Mandela’s capture site in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Kara graduated in May 2016 with a Masters of Nursing and a concentration in Global Health Studies. During her studies, she travelled to Haiti to conduct research on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission in collaboration with their partner site, Zanmi Lasante. Kara has been involved in various Global Health activities since 2012 and hopes to continue to contribute to this field as a nurse.

Jackie in South Africa: Post-Travel Report

Jacqueline Roberge-Dao

Award won:

SPOT Global Health Travel Award



Jackie in South Africa

I am Jackie Dao, about to graduate from a master’s in Occupational Therapy (M2). I’ve always been fascinated with travelling and meeting new people. A previous trip to rural Peru working at a centre for children with disabilities gave me the travel bug and motivated me to discover new cultures.

Project Overview:

In Cape Town, I had the opportunity to intern in the largest public hospital of the Western Cape, the Groote Schuur Hospital. I split my 8 weeks between 3 different rotations: neurology, paediatrics and general medicine. As the beds needed to be cleared quickly in general medicine, my role was to quickly assess and discharge with outpatient referrals, assistive equipment and/or self-management education. In neuro and peds, cases were much more intense which required intensive daily rehab for remediation of function.

A story I would like to share happened one day on the neuro ward. An elderly woman was admitted displaying total body paralysis, but brain scans revealed everything was working normally; the team didn’t know what to do. I spent three hours just talking to her about her life experiences and my own (therapeutic use of self). I learned that her husband had passed a couple of years ago, that she was carrying an enormous burden of responsibility for her multi-generational family, and that she had just been diagnosed with HIV. As we explored her grief, guilt and attachments, she revealed to me that this was the first time in many years that she was able to express herself and feel heard. The next day, I returned to see her and a miracle happened: slowly but surely, I was able to get her out of the bed – she was no longer paralyzed. We took a walk outside that day, and she cried thanking me. This made me appreciate that no matter where we are born or what experiences we’ve been through, we are, at our core, the same. And sometimes magical things can occur when we remember that love is real and that connection and empathy can go a long way.

Looking ahead:

This field work has influenced my future career plans in that I will be extremely willing to accept an opportunity that takes me abroad. I overcame many personal fears during this trip which helps me move forward and push my boundaries of what is possible in terms of working whilst travelling. I have witnessed disparities in health and realized the immense need for powerful figures that will advance the system and humanity as a whole.


See also the McGill School of Physical and Occupational Therapy (SPOT) blog, and their website!
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