James Madison University

NEW COLLEGES FORMED A plan to reorganize the College of Integrated Science and Technology into two colleges took effect July 1, 2012. The new colleges are the College of Health and Behavioral Studies and the College of Integrated Science and Engineering.

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Health Science Students Discover HIV/AIDS Prevention in South Africa

By: Amanda Rivera
Posted: November 13, 2007

PHOTO: HS South Africa tripAs a Health Sciences and History double major, Hilary Pauli has rare opportunities to use her talents concurrently.  However signing up for Health 490 (HIV/AIDS Prevention in South Africa), taught by Health Sciences professor Dr. Debra Sutton, Hilary was able to pool all of her resources. “I had studied abroad two summers ago and I decided that I would like to go again …I took epidemiology and I’ve always been really interested in infectious diseases and especially in more developing countries and it just fit perfectly for what I wanted to do,” she says.  So in May of this year, Hilary headed to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu refers to as the “Rainbow Nation,” along with Dr. Sutton and nine other students.

PHOTO: HS South Africa tripIn the only country in the world with three capitals, the group began their journey with the “Mother City” of South Africa’s trio: Cape Town.    Travelling first to the Groote Shuur Hospital, acknowledged as the first hospital to perform a heart transplant, the JMU students were introduced to the program “Kidzpositive.”  As an initiative in which mothers and grandmothers produce beadwork for sale to pay for the medications of diagnosed children, Hilary and her fellow classmates were acclimated to the increasing need for antiretroviral medications in South Africa.  She says, “I took an HIV/AIDS class with Dr. Sabato in the spring during the first eight weeks, so I learned so much about the disease… I knew it was bad and I knew it was affecting over ten percent of the population [and] so I guess I kind of came into it thinking worst case scenario.”  Shortly after, the students also visited the University of Capetown’s Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, which further emphasized the epidemic’s pervasive presence in the country.  Despite the high tally of those afflicted, the students were impressed with South Africa’s proactive stance against the disease.  “I was really pleasantly overwhelmed by the amount of programs and things being done there with regards to HIV and AIDS.  We learned so much about all these different programs,” Hilary says.

PHOTO: South Africa tripArriving at the University of Pretoria and the destination of a second capital, the HTH 490 class attended a workshop to teach them about the breadth of grassroots programs devoted to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in South Africa.  During their trip, the JMU students were also able to spend time at Baphumelele, an orphanage in Khayelitsha.  Hilary notes this experience as her most memorable one saying, “It was great…I had this one little four year-old girl [and] she just comes up to me and wraps her arms around my legs and wouldn’t let go…They’re on ARV’s, but all these children are like regular children.  They’re so energetic, they’re laughing, they’re smiling …I guess it was a good culmination of seeing how the distribution of ARV’s to everybody, even if you’re destitute or an orphan, really does make a huge difference.”  With little time and so many things to do, the group managed to squeeze in a trip to Robben Island, famed as the location of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment, and South Africa’s Muslim or “Malay”community near Bo-Kaap.

PHOTO:South Africa tripComing to South Africa, it was natural for the students to recognize the aftermath of this nation’s tumultuous background.  “I think apartheid changed so much in that country.  We went to this one fishing village that had been moved so far inland, which of course, is ridiculous, but that’s what the government did back then,” Hilary says.  While this history was obvious to the students, the medical history of people they met along the way remained vague.  Hilary explains, “We met other people who were openly HIV positive, but we also met a lot of people in townships.  So when you’re walking down the streets outside their homes, you don’t know.  We met a lot of people that we don’t really know about their HIV status.”  For both those willing to disclose their status and those unwilling, students were able to experience the amount of programs devoted to their cause.  “One of their biggest public campaigns is loveLife, which is mainly targeting teenagers and young adults, and I had been to the website before, but you can really see it around there,” Hilary says.  

Staying almost two weeks in South Africa, the JMU student was reluctant to leave.  “If I had just been able to go to a Laundromat, I would have stayed for another few weeks…I probably would have tried to do more hands-on work with some of the groups…or go back to the orphanages and play with the kids,” she says.  However, arriving back home, Hilary renders the experience a positive one: “It definitely solidified my desire to work in the field of international public health.  I’m hoping to go down to somewhere in Central America in the spring and work in a rural health clinic there… It [the trip] was a huge impact on what I wanted to do.”