216. Ragon Institute Internships in South Africa

The Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI) and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard and are offering a ten-week, fully-funded summer internship program in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa for Harvard undergraduate students. There are three options to choose from: (A) Basic Science Research in HIV-TB, (B) Clinical Research (w/ the FRESH clinic) in HIV with an integrated poverty alleviation program, and (C) Operational Research (w/ the ITEACH Program) in HIV-TB and health innovation and social entrepreneurship with a Ragon-linked South African non-profit organization. Students will be supervised by an MGH/Harvard/Ragon faculty member and gain skills working side-by-side with local and international investigators, graduate students and team members.The internship program is open to all Harvard undergraduates, including freshmen and sophomores. Prior laboratory and international experience are not required.

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There are 3 projects available; please specify in your personal statement which one(s) you are applying for. If you wish to apply for more than 1 project, you must submit separate applications in CARAT for each one. Whether you apply for 1, 2, or all 3 projects, it will only count as 1 against your 3-application limit.

A. Basic Science Research

The basic science component is based at the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) where the Ragon Institute played a central role in establishing a state of art biomedical research facilities. Successful candidates will work alongside researchers at two UKZN affiliated research institutes namely Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) https://www.ahri.org and the HIV Pathogenesis Program (HPP) http://hivmedicine.ukzn.ac.za/HIVPathogenesisProgramme.aspx. Both institutes are located at the University of KwaZulu Natal Medical School campus. Student Students will receive basic science training in any of the following areas, immunology, virology, molecular biology and bioinformatics under the supervision of a local investigator. The internship will also include seminars and visits to clinical research sites in the greater Durban area where cohorts and sampling populations are situated. The internship will expose students to career paths in basic science and global health research and will provide a competitive advantage for admission into global health sciences graduate programs. Each student will be paired with graduate student who will serve as their mentor, with supervision provided by Dr. Zaza Ndlovu or Prof. Thumbi Ndung’u.

B. Clinical Research with an integrated Poverty Alleviation Program / ‘FRESH’

Based in the township of Umlazi, 30 min south of Durban, the FRESH program (Females Rising through Education, Support and Health) is a unique combination of basic science research and poverty alleviation that enrolls young HIV-uninfected women at high risk of infection. With a focus on detecting acute HIV infection at the earliest timepoint, the aim of FRESH is to fill gaps in information critical to development of an effective HIV vaccine or novel treatment/prevention strategies. Study participants co-enroll in a life/job skills curriculum to ensure tangible benefit to participation in the research. Students will gain an understand of the challenges faced by young women African women that impact this group having the highest rate of HIV infection in the world as well as gaining an appreciation conducting research in a resource limited high-burden setting. Students will be involved in either the clinical research operations (implementation of surveys, data collection and analysis), or may be involved in the social intervention preparing and linking the women to work or return to school. Students will work closely with the clinical research team and gain experience in research design and implementation. Supervisor: Dr. Krista Dong.

C. Operational Research in Global Health / Health Innovation / ‘ITEACH’ 

Based at the Ragon’s Integration of TB in Education and Care for HIV/AIDS (ITEACH) site, this option provide students with a first-hand look into how the world’s largest HIV treatment program is run as well as unique opportunity to engage with African traditional healers (Sangomas) who are practitioners who the majority of black South Africans will consult before going to a hospital or clinic. ITEACH was launched in 2005 on the premises of a large government hospital (Edendale) on the outskirts of KZN’s capital, Pietermaritzburg; the hospital is a busy referral center in the health district with the highest rate of HIV and HIV-TB co-infection in the country. Despite a recent facelift to the hospital’s façade, Edendale continues to struggle to meet national targets for HIV testing, TB screening, linkage to and retention in care. ITEACH is a registered South African non-profit that designs and tests novel interventions (Ex: HIV self-test kit) to improve care and treatment to the poor and underserved by utilizing abundant and available resources and partnering with underutilized allies, such as African Traditional Healers. Student interns will work side-by-side with members of the ITEACH team, which is comprised of uniquely experienced and committed local South Africans have been working on the front lines of the epidemic for the last decade. Project options include work with the ITEACH HIV-TB “warriors” or with scale-up of the African Traditional Health Practitioners integration program. In 2020, ITEACH trained healers will begin working as part of a pediatric research team on the North Coast of KZN. Activities will be determined by student interest and skills. Students will spend time at the hospital, go on outreach events and visit local clinics and traditional healer home practices. Students will gain experience in patient centered research design and study implementation. Supervisor: Dr. Krista Dong.

Cost and Logistics: Interns will receive a stipend from HGHI to cover international flights, accommodation and living expenses in South Africa during the summer internship. Assistance from the Ragon Institute will be provided to arrange accommodations and in-country transportation. No visa is required for stay in South Africa for less than 90 days. Note: funding is not provided for weekend and extra-curricular activities.

Health and Safety Training: All interns, irrespective of selected option, will be required to complete the CITI online human subjects research course and for those who opt for the lab research experience, an online lab safety training course.

Vaccination and Malaria: Interns will visit a travel clinic in Boston to review vaccine and prophylaxis requirements. All interns must have the Hepatitis B vaccine series. If travel to a yellow fever endemic country is planned prior to the summer internship, proof of yellow fever vaccination will be required to enter South Africa. There is no malaria in or around Durban or Pietermaritzburg. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended only for students who plan to travel to rural/game parks during their stay.

Quotes from Previous Fellows

"This summer, I have the unique privilege of working at the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) in Durban, South Africa, an interdisciplinary research institute that focuses on fundamental research aimed at improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV and tuberculosis. As an intern in the Ndhlovu lab, I work as a part of a team dedicated towards HIV cure research. Specifically, my work deals with cloning, expressing, and characterizing immunoglobulins from a participate with broadly neutralizing anti-HIV activity, in addition to using assays to determine the neutralizing activity of these immunoglobulins. Outside of the laboratory, I've spent time visiting various community-based research sites and hospitals around the region." Aaron Abai, Summer 2019

"I've been working over this summer at the African Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa. AHRI's mission is centered around infectious diseases, mainly focusing on HIV and TB. My research project, in Dr Ndhlovu's lab, consists of analyzing the differential phenotypes of CD8 cells involved in HIV reservoirs, as well as quantifying the kinetics of a specific CD4 killing action." Jerome Edwards, Summer 2019

"I am working at the FRESH Clinic in Umlazi, South Africa. Along with researching acute-HIV and the development of HIV in the early stages in hopes of creating a vaccine in the future, this clinic enrolls HIV-negative women in the community and empowers them through teaching them about HIV and their role as women. Beyond helping to create databases for the team and file archiving, my main project focuses on creating a study to evaluate how PrEP (an HIV preventative pill) is taken by the women in the clinic in an effort to increase its uptake among the participants." Joanne Hokayem, Summer 2019

"This summer, I am working with the Ragon Institute's FRESH study in Durban, South Africa. This study enrolls young HIV negative women at high risk of HIV infection and tests them twice a week for 9 months, with the goal to detect infection at its earliest possible stage. The study participants are also enrolled in a life skills curriculum where they learn to empower themselves and get employed. I am managing this data and developing more efficient ways to store it. Additionally, I am creating the guidelines for a new study by FRESH to investigate the low adherence rates to PrEP, the HIV prevention pill." Nellie Ide, Summer 2019

"This summer I am going to be working in the Ndhlovu lab at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, South Africa. The lab has observed that even though early initiation of Antiretroviral therapy clears the HIV virus in the peripheral blood to undetectable levels, there still remains a viral reservoir in the lymph node tissues that can replenish the virus. My summer project will involve using laboratory techniques such as flow cytometry and digital droplet PCR in order to identify which of the CD4+ lymph node cell populations harbours more of the HIV viral RNA. Potentially, this knowledge could be essential in coming up with targeted HIV treatment that would be more efficient overall" Mazuba Siamatu, Summer 2019

Click here for instructions on how to apply.