Meet the CIPHER grantees

Elona Toska

Year awarded: 2018
Institution: University of Cape Town
Research site: South Africa
Primary mentor: Lucie Cluver, University of Oxford

Elona Toska is an adolescent sexual and reproductive health researcher and postdoctoral fellow at the AIDS and Society Research Unit, University of Cape Town. She co-leads the quantitative component of the Mzantsi Wakho adolescent health study and UPLIFT, a social science cohort aiming to understand predictors of lifelong initiation, follow up and treatment for adolescents living with HIV.

More information on Elona | Email

“During hospital and clinic visits, nurses and doctors would often mention how worried they were about the health of teen mothers living with HIV and their children. This CIPHER grant will investigate how we can adapt healthcare services to meet the unique needs of these mothers and their children, so that they can live long and healthy lives.”

Research project: Improving retention in PMTCT and ART care for adolescent mothers living with HIV and their children in Southern Africa

The issue

Almost 1.7 million adolescent girls living with HIV in southern Africa experience high rates of pregnancy, poor birth outcomes and AIDS-related mortality. Their children are at increased risk of vertical HIV infection, low ART access, poor health and mortality. No known studies have examined how healthcare provision models can improve their HIV outcomes.

The CIPHER project

Co-led by Dr Toska, the study includes 325 mothers living with HIV (13-19 years old) in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. It will:

  • Identify which healthcare provision models improve HIV-related outcomes among adolescent mothers living with HIV and their children.
  • Build capacity among emerging southern African researchers to optimize health service delivery for adolescent mother-child dyads.

Stigma remains a real issue, and to avoid stigma, Dr Toska is using this study name in communities: “Helping empower youth brought up living in adversity and their babies and young children (HEY BABY)”.

She will use three existing rounds of data on HIV outcomes and adolescent mother/child utilization of healthcare models from 2015-2018. With CIPHER support, she will collect data on longer-term HIV outcomes from clinic-based medical records and National Health Laboratory Service records. This will allow testing of the effects of once-off and repeated exposure to different healthcare models on retention in care, maternal viral load, early HIV testing and child HIV status.

The impact

Through active engagement with government policy makers, Paediatric-Adolescent Treatment Africa, UNICEF, UNAIDS, UNFPA, and UNWomen, Dr Toska intends that her CIPHER project will contribute directly to improved adolescent/paediatric HIV policy and services.

Capacity building will include a postdoctoral researcher’s mentorship for Dr Toska and developing research capacity for a paediatric HIV nurse, three clinic researchers and a team of young, HIV-affected researchers.

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




Annual Impact Report 2020

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