The community advisory board (CAB) at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa was formed in 2007. It was created to strengthen community involvement in large-scale clinical trials and incorporate different ideas from a broad range of stakeholders. With CAB members drawn from affected communities, NGOs, the Department of Health, local government, and elsewhere, the CAB strives to leverage the diversity of its membership to maintain a relationship of trust between affected communities and trial implementers.

Community engagement (CE) can have a significant impact because CAB members are able to communicate effectively with and educate their community, debunking myths about clinical trials. The Johannesburg CAB’s greatest strength is its significant experience with community outreach and education. Its outreach events provide a platform for raising community awareness about ongoing clinical studies, like  STREAM, and how community members can participate at every stage of clinical trials. Using a variety of formats – ranging from one-on-one or group meetings, to conference calls to share updates and feedback regarding clinical studies, to community outreach programs, and site visits – the Johannesburg CAB is able to ensure the community it serves feels represented and understands the importance of participating in clinical trials.

Caption: Johannesburg CAB outreach activity on World TB Day 2018

The COVID pandemic has challenged CAB members to find new ways to conduct CE within the limits of local restrictions. With limits on in-person activities in place, the Johannesburg CAB increased its use of “virtual” communications to connect with key stakeholders and continue its other activities. For example, in Q2 this year, the STREAM principal investigator held a Zoom training for Johannesburg CAB members on how to communicate with trial participants and stakeholders. 

In addition, the CAB looked for ways to support the COVID response safely and ensure continuity of care for other priority diseases. For example, earlier this year, the CAB met with the Department of Health to outline how it could support public health campaigns during the pandemic by disseminating information to their local communities, with the help of regional NGOs and stakeholders. Through these partnerships, the CAB conducts outreach activities to raise awareness about COVID-19, TB and HIV, and refer community members to local clinics for screening and care.  

The Johannesburg CAB continues to have impact on the communities they serve by adapting strategically to the circumstances to contribute to local public health decisions on the pandemic. Capacity building and training on the use of technology was key in enabling the CAB to tackle the most relevant issues and continue their very important outreach work to provide the most current information for the health and wellbeing of their community stakeholders.

To read more about STREAM CE, please click here!