Meet the CIPHER grantees

Sarah Skeen

Year awarded: 2019
Institution: Stellenbosch University
Research site: South Africa
Primary mentor: Mark Tomlinson, Stellenbosch University

Sarah Skeen is a senior researcher and Co-Director of the Institute for Life Course Health Research at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. She works across a range of projects focused on developing, implementing and evaluating interventions to improve child and adolescent outcomes in sub-Saharan African countries, including Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Malawi, Mozambique, Uganda and Zambia.

More information on Sarah

“In order to identify and diagnose vulnerable children who have not accessed appropriate PMTCT services at birth, we need to develop and roll out accessible programmes. This project will be used to further develop an innovative approach to promoting testing, which is integrated into existing parenting programmes in communities.”

Research project: Khwezi Lokusa (Early Morning Star) Project: Integrating an evidence-based intervention component to promote HIV testing of young children into community-based parenting programmes

The issue

To date, testing of young children has not been a priority in global HIV/AIDS policy. While investments in prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) have been hugely successful in reducing child infections, the lack of focus on programmes for children after infancy has meant that they lag behind adults in terms of HIV outcomes, including rates of testing and treatment uptake. Complicating the issue further, children are not able to access services directly, and rely on their caregivers as gatekeepers to access HIV services.

The CIPHER project

Researchers in the Khwezi Lokusa Project intend to adapt an intervention component that was successful in promoting uptake of HIV testing of young children in Lesotho for use in community-based parenting groups in South Africa. The intervention component was evaluated in a cluster randomized controlled trial called Mphatlalatsane, which took place in Mokhotlong, Lesotho. It is specifically designed to be integrated into group-based interventions with broader aims beyond HIV prevention, testing and treatment.

The project will be run in partnership with Clowns Without Borders South Africa (CWBSA), a non-governmental organization (NGO) with a strong track record in parenting skills training and capacity development of community-based organizations. Through its SinoKids programme, CWBSA offers training for parents of 2-9 year olds to develop their parenting skills and healthy relationships with their children.

The impact

In addition to the newly developed intervention component for testing in South African settings, a guidance document on the adaptation process will be developed targeted at agencies and NGOs that are looking to integrate HIV-related content into their programming in high-risk areas. The team will leverage its existing connections with regional and global networks and programmes to promote the adaptation, testing and use of the intervention component in other settings, with the ultimate aim of increasing testing rates for young children across a range of settings.

The project has given Dr Onoya the chance to train a research team in qualitative and quantitative data analysis, as well as manuscript development. Her submission to ICASA 2017 won the best abstract award. “This was very exciting and encouraging, and we hope to produce more relevant outputs in the future,” she says.

1st International Paediatric HIV Symposium in Africa - Virtual Symposium 17-18 November 2021




Annual international workshop on “Children and Adolescents HIV-Exposed and Uninfected”

CIPHER Grant Programme
Awards up to $150,000 to early-stage investigators to address critical research gaps in paediatric and adolescent HIV in resource-limited settings.

CIPHER Growing the Leaders of Tomorrow Fellowship
Provides support to young investigators in sub-Saharan Africa on priority research topics in paediatric and adolescent HIV clinical science.

CIPHER Global Cohort Collaboration
Brings together the largest collaboration of paediatric and adolescent HIV observational cohort networks to answer key questions of global public health.

Research agendas for paediatric and adolescent HIV