Youth and HIV in South Africa: New Interventions

Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar Julia Standish-White kicks off a new series of blog posts profiling Scholars’ motivations for applying for the WHT Scholarship and Leadership programme, their academic interests, the impact of their time at Oxford and their future plans.

“In 2016, I was studying Psychology at the University of Cape Town and I realised that the individual focus of the discipline did not align entirely with the high levels of poverty, health inequality, and dissatisfaction that vast numbers of people in South Africa face. I became interested in learning about large-scale, evidence-based, social interventions and how they might be better equipped to meet the needs of the South African population. I was accepted onto the Masters in Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation programme at Oxford, and I believed that the opportunities that would arise from studying this at Oxford would allow me to return to South Africa in a much stronger position to effect meaningful change in the country.

My particular research interest has always been in HIV. South Africa has the worst HIV burden in the world, and adolescents are disproportionately affected by this. Adolescent mortality and morbidity rates have not improved in recent years, contrary to an improvement in these rates amongst older and younger age groups. My focus for my Masters dissertation sought to investigate the cost-effectiveness of interventions that improved retention in care for HIV-positive adolescents in South Africa.

This research question arose from a request from the South African Department of Health. Building on my supervisor’s extensive work in South Africa with HIV-positive adolescents, where she had identified five factors associated with increased retention in care, I conceptualised and costed interventions that would achieve that improvement. My findings suggested that with a fairly small additional investment per adolescent from the government, significant improvements could be made in the proportion of HIV-positive adolescents that were retained in care. These findings could inform the next set of health policies and programmes in South Africa.

Today, I am back in South Africa after a year at Oxford. In February 2019, I will begin working as an analyst at Genesis Analytics in Johannesburg. Genesis Analytics is an Economics Consultancy that aims to ‘unlock potential’ in Africa. I will be working with their Applied Behavioural Economics Practice Area, which was the first unit of its kind to be established in Africa. The role speaks to my interest in behaviour and decision making, in capacity-building and on working towards the realisation of Africa’s potential.

Julia Standish White at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam

When I was not working on my dissertation or in the classroom, I enjoyed participating in a number of extra-curricular activities in and around Oxford. I sang in the Jesus College Choir, ran the Oxford Half Marathon and the Town and Gown 10km, joined the Oxford University Lawn Tennis Club, and travelled to the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. A particularly proud moment for me was being part of the organising team for the Oxford Africa Conference. Our theme was ‘Moving beyond the rhetoric: catalysing an era of action’. Our conference was a huge success, and included speakers such as the First Lady of Namibia, President of Ghana, and the Deputy Secretary General of the UN. I found it inspiring to engage directly with speakers of such a high calibre, and to hear them share their fascinating insights regarding what an ‘era of action’ might look like for Africa.

My ambitions for my career have risen dramatically after my time at Oxford. I have been stretched in every direction and I have emerged with a much firmer sense of myself and my future plans. I am looking forward to entering the working world in South Africa.”

You can follow Julia and her work on Twitter @Julz_SW