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Aurum Klerksdorp's Intern Research Assistant Temoso Kgwale, Community Engagement Manager Blossom Makhubalo and Intern Research Assistant Thato Mohlala at a recent community outreach event in collaboration with the North West Department of Health in Matlosana sub-district. The Klerksdorp team raised awareness on Aurum’s participant recruitment for Ensemble and Messa TB clinical trials.
A people-centered approach to clinical trials

A people-centered approach to clinical trials

As South Africa prepares for the second phase of the Sisonke implementation study rollout, providing accurate information to the public has become critical. As one of the clinical research partners for the Sisonke vaccine, Aurum has been engaging with communities and building relationships rooted in the principles of Good Participatory Practice, which include transparency, trust, integrity, respect, and autonomy.

Blossom Makhubalo is the Community Engagement Manager at the Aurum Clinical Research Site in Klerksdorp, North West. The site is currently running multiple TB and COVID-19 trials and Makhubalo is responsible for building and strengthening the relationship with the communities and stakeholders. “We prioritise strengthening and building solid strategic collaborations for sustainable community engagement and trial success,” she said. Makhubalo also sees to the day-to-day operations of the Community Engagement Unit  and facilitates compliance with Good Participatory Practice principles on all their activities. The unit’s work is divided into three parts; engagement of national and other stakeholders for clinical research, engagement during protocol development with stakeholders and community and trial results and dissemination.

People-centered 

Community engagement is people-centered as they are the centre of the work Aurum does. “Without community engagement, we would not be able to conduct trials. Through community engagement, we create an environment of trust both at an individual and institutional level and identify and support individuals and stakeholders who can invest in community development in their areas. For example, the capacity building sessions that we facilitate with civil society are intending to empower civil society with vaccine literacy,” she added. At the start of a trial, the unit conducts an analysis to help identify participants for trials.  “We use strong participatory approach, we do not develop recruitment strategies on our own, we actively engage the communities and key community stakeholders and the Community Advisory Board (CAB),” said Makhubalo.

The objective of clinical trials is to improve health through the development of better treatment. “The aim is to empower our communities with information on biomedical interventions and increased knowledge on clinical research. We empower communities to be equal partners in the research process and to hold research sites accountable.” This is vital so that community members do not view clinical research sites as detached from them. But rather “own” the research process and ownership is achieved with a community participatory approach.

“I enjoy working with people and diverse communities, I grow and learn every day and consider myself an equal learning partner.  Community engagement provides me with the opportunity to fulfil my passion which is working with diverse communities and facilitating sustainable and impactful change in all sectors of our communities especially improving the psychosocial and health outcomes of our communities,” said Makhubalo.