212. Perinatal HIV Research Unit, Soweto, South Africa

Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) is one of Africa’s leading research centres, situated at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital—known locally as ‘Bara’—in Soweto, Johannesburg. PHRU is affiliated with the University of the Witwatersrand and engages in research, training, policy-formulation and advocacy concerning HIV-positive and -negative people and their children.

Specifically, PHRU conducts adult, paediatric and adolescent HIV treatment research, HIV prevention research and investigations into tuberculosis and other HIV co-infections. In addition to the numerous pharmaceutical and publicly-funded clinical trials, the unit also conducts important behavioural and social science research, advocates for research access and provides needed care to the people of Soweto.



Summer Project

Two students will be placed at the Bio-Behavioural Research (BBR) Division of the PHRU. The division focuses on multi-disciplinary, cross-sectional and longitudinal research projects centred on adolescents and young adults aged 13-25 years and uses a combination of research methodologies to do so. The division runs several qualitative, quantitative and mixed-methods research projects, focusing on innovative ways to prevent HIV in young people living in Soweto. Current projects involve, amongst others, research aimed to deliver sexual risk assessment via digital health tools,  understanding the feasibility and acceptability of providing daily versus on-demand PrEP to adolescent boys and girls and to better understand the effect of violence on health and HIV transmission among boys. BBR is also currently involved in a few COVID-19 related studies.


The main responsibilities and deliverables will largely depend on the development of the COVID-19 pandemic and whether the placement will take place in-person or virtually. The interns will be involved in a variety of tasks, including analysis of existing qualitative and/or quantitative research data, literature reviews and write-up, assisting in the day to day running of research projects, data capturing, community engagement activities, shadowing other divisions and research projects, site visits and ward rounds at Chris Hani Academic Hospital, where possible. The main output of this placement will be linked to writing up an abstract and a manuscript.

Main responsibilities will include:

  • Performing literature reviews for abstract and manuscript write-up
  • Qualitative and/or quantitative analyses and interpretation of results
  • Write-up of an abstract and manuscript
  • Responding to and incorporating regular feedback from project investigators and co-authors that shall reflect on the final abstract and manuscript
  • Assisting on running projects
  • Assist in community engagement activities


  • Experience in analyzing and interpreting qualitative and quantitative datasets
  • Experience in writing literature reviews, abstracts and manuscripts
  • Ability to work independently
  • Clear passion for working in global health contexts
  • Empathy towards people living with HIV and TB

Please note, this internship is open to rising juniors and seniors.

Work Environment

The interns will join the BBR team either virtually or in-person. Our team is based at the PHRU within a 12-floor building located at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto, South Africa. If interns are able to join our team in-person, they will be mainly office based, with their own work station, but will rotate within the PHRU and the surrounding communities in Soweto, as required by project deliverables and responsibilities. They will engage and meet with a variety of experts in the field to ensure exposure, support and learning. For the manuscript output, interns will meet regularly with their mentor(s), statistician, principal investigator and co-authors to ensure that a manuscript draft is completed by the end of the placement.


On a scale of 0 to 5, the level of internship supervision from very little (0) to a great deal (5) will be a 3. If the placement will take place virtually, check-in meetings should happen at least once weekly and all other communication via emails and virtual meetings, as required.

Special Instructions

In your personal statement, please describe the experience and skills they bring to fulfill the   responsibilities of this internship placement. They should also state their expectations for this placement and what they would like to achieve within the internship period.

Additional Requirements

  • Students would need to ensure that they apply for the correct visa category for the duration on their internship in South Africa. Students usually apply for a 90-day visitor’s visa.
  • The PHRU will provide support and suggestions for accommodation and transport, but students are requested to finalise their own arrangements.
  • The students would also be asked to bring their own laptop.

Quotes from Previous Fellows

"As a summer research intern for the Perinatal HIV Research Unit located in Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, I've been given the opportunity to see first-hand the varying roles social, economic, psychosocial, and structural barriers play in the HIV epidemic. My work this summer has taken on literature research and data analysis to characterize these health-determining factors with the eventual aim of producing a manuscript, virtual public health programming to engage South African youth during the COVID pandemic, and writing grants for mobile health expansion. So far, I have worked on literature review and subsequent writing for a manuscript about the psychosocial barriers to HIV treatment adherence in adolescent young women in South Africa. This summer we also successfully coordinated a week-long virtual public health and social activism programming event for youth in commemoration of South Africa Youth Day. Currently, I am conducting data analysis on a social science experiment analyzing factors affecting HIV susceptibility in the adolescent genital tract. Additionally, I am working on a grant for mobile health expansion and accessibility for youth in South Africa." Oluwatobi Ariyo, Summer 2020

"At the Perinatal HIV/AIDS Research Unit (PHRU), I am working on mixed-methods research to improve and implement comprehensive HIV prevention programs focusing on bridging youth health outcomes with the 90-90-90 UNAIDS goal. I have helped the biobehavioral team with the HERStory Study, which evaluates risk factors and gaps in combination HIV prevention implementation to optimize oral PrEP use and ART exposure delivery strategy through qualitative and discrete choice experiment methodologies. On community initiatives, I collaborated with the Youth Community Advisory Board to develop the first virtual Health + Activism challenge for South Africa National Youth Month. We worked with local organizations to design events that educated youth about the BLM movement, COVID, PrEP and HIV prevention, domestic abuse, and mental health, with the goal of spreading awareness of PHRU's community research and recruiting for behavioral studies. Beyond data analysis and manuscript writing, I am writing on a stigma grant, conducting literature reviews for digital health software, and creating a report on psychosocial factors associated with youth - especially women's - uptake of contraceptive and pre-exposure medication, both critical components of "treatment as prevention". Thank you to PHRU and HGHI for providing this opportunity to advance our understanding of the HIV epidemic, especially at this critical junction when COVID has exposed the vulnerability of our immunocompromised patients!" Minjue Wu, Summer 2020

“My work this summer is divided into literature research with the eventual aim of producing a manuscript and assisting PHRU with an ongoing behavioural study of theirs investigating the acceptability, feasibility, and implementation of daily and on-demand PrEP in adolescent males and females. So far, I have been recruiting representatives from local community health organisations to attend an upcoming community outreach event PHRU is spearheading. Through this event, PRHU hopes to educate adolescents about HIV prevention and community resources, as well as recruit participants for their behavioural study. After this event takes place, the focus of my work will shift back to literature research for which I have decided to look how trust/mistrust affects the willingness of adolescents to participate in HIV clinical trials in South Africa.” Zoe Hughes, Summer 2019

“As a research intern at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, South Africa, I’ve been able to see what I’ve learned about in various global health classes at the heart of the epidemic. I’ve helped the team here with the Combined HIV Adolescent PrEP and Prevention Study (CHAPS), which aims to investigate the feasibility and acceptability of implementing PrEP among adolescents and young adults here in Soweto, as well as in other locations. In addition to helping with recruiting participants, we’ve worked with the local organizations and the Soweto adolescent community advisory board to design an outreach event to educate young people and youth organization leaders about PrEP and HIV prevention. I am also writing a report about sources of contraceptive information for adolescents and young adults and its association with frequency of condom use, a critical method of HIV prevention. Additionally, I am working on literature reviews on digital health in South Africa and the discrete choice experiment research methodology.” Michelle Koh, Summer 2019

Click here for instructions on how to apply.