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An Impactful Youth-Adult Partnership: Evaluating the Youth Engagement Approach within an HIV intervention in Soweto, South Africa

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Despite successful efforts made by the South African government to implement youthfriendly services in public clinics, none of these efforts have formally evaluated youth engagement as an integral framework to improve health service delivery to young adults (16-24 years). The youth engagement framework is a participatory research approach, where young people and adults merge their efforts to work towards a common goal while sharing knowledge and power. The objective of our study was to evaluate the effectiveness of the Youth Engagement (YE) approach as part of a larger adolescent HIV cohort study. AYAZAZI (‘knowing themselves’ in the Zulu language) is an interdisciplinary longitudinal cohort study at the Perinatal HIV Research Unit (PHRU) which aims to link HIV socio-behavioural patterns and clinical characteristics among youth age 16-24 years living in Soweto, South Africa. The AYAZAZI study adopted a youth engagement approach where youth (16-24 years) play an active role as research staff members and participants while receiving the guidance and support of adult allies. The AYAZAZI cohort study has a mixed age group on staff, consisting of Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) (16-24 years) staff, and adult allies (older than 25 years). To evaluate the YE approach in AYAZAZI, we employed two data sources: anonymously written responses submitted via a suggestion box, as well as responses given during face-to-face interviews. The suggestion box was implemented in the youth lounge at the PHRU clinic to assess Adolescents and Young Adults (AYA) research participants’ satisfaction with the AYAZAZI research study. We also conducted face-to-face interviews with 5 (AYA) AYAZAZI research participants (18-24 years), 4 youth AYAZAZI research staff (16-24 years), and 4 AYAZAZI “adult allies” staff (older than 25). Key findings from the youth engagement evaluation included young people feeling valued by staff members, and youth staff having new career aspirations as a result of interacting with adult staff members. Adopting a youth engagement approach created an effective communication space between adults and young people. Taken together, our results suggest that, when given a supportive environment where young people can engage with those of the same age group along with supportive adults, youth are more likely to partake in programs and services intended to benefit them.
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