Marking 10 years of HIV studies in key populations

On the second year of the the Global Health research masters programme, the course ‘Addressing Disease burden in a Global Context’ is offered to students as an elective. The course is part of the core curriculum and offered by the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development, one of the three founding partners of this programme. In this course we look at burden of disease from a quantitative perspective, whereas the majority of courses take on a qualitative perspective.  This difference in approach is unique in our programme structure but there are more aspects of the course that help students create a holistic perspective on Global Health.

Talking with students about key populations is another aspect that characterizes this course. For the 10th year, we have facilitated the theme week “HIV studies in key populations”. This theme week is led by AIGHD Senior Fellow Prof. Eduard Sanders from who is affiliated with Oxford, Kenya Medical Research Institute, and the Aurum Institute.

The objective of this week is to actively engage students in thinking about doing research among vulnerable, stigmatized, and hard to reach populations who have an increased risk of contracting HIV. The ultimate aim of the discussed studies is to decrease risk and to improve the health and wellbeing of these key populations. The motto Context Matters is very appropriately attached to this week.

This theme week has matured over the 10 years, not in the least because of feedback from students. Compared to the first few years of this course offering, the student population has diversified significantly. Not only did it grow in numbers, from 12 students in 2014 to 33 in 2023, but representation of different contexts has grown. More and more students come from abroad and lower-middle income settings.  This leads to more in-depth discussions and more understanding of other perspectives, both between students as well as between facilitators. We are convinced that global health topics are best taught and discussed in international contexts – especially in international class rooms.

Content-wise, the world has changed too. For example, mental health has made it to the top of the priority list and we no longer think of addressing HIV without discussing mental health too. Innovations and issues in this field are explored in the course work in close collaboration with partners in Africa.

Involving these partners more actively in the theme week is one of the biggest changes we have taken on over the years. Local experts have enriched the week tremendously. Sharing their stories of real-life experiences working with key populations can never be surpassed by second- or third-hand stories of more distantly involved researchers based in Europe.

This is also indicates the way forward for us. As we celebrate 10 years of inspiring interactions with students, we will focus more concretely on involving researchers and program implementers from the contexts of the key populations in the HIV epidemics across the world. We encourage the VU to keep facilitating international students and to help us in involving international partners in our courses so that we can continue to support the next generation of Global Health experts.