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Unique PhD project recognised with Inclusive Health Research award
Author: FMHS Marketing & Communications / FGGW Bemarking & Kommunikasie – Edna Ellman
Published: 31/08/2023

​She refers to herself as a “daughter of the Cape Flats with South African running through my veins" and it was a beautiful culmination of hard work, passion and insight that recently landed Lynn Hendricks, lecturer in the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University at the inaugural prestigious Inclusive Health Research awards in Brazil.

Hendricks' Global Minds PhD project entitled More than a Pill: Producing the Story of Adherence to ART for Young Women Living with Perinatal HIV was one of eight initiatives shortlisted from Malaysia, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This winning project was a collaboration between KU Leuven and Stellenbosch University and done under the supervision of KU Leuven Professor Karin Hannes (Centre for Sociological Research) and Stellenbosch University Professor Taryn Young (Department of Global Health).

The research sheds light on how young women living with perinatal HIV in South Africa, use multi-sensory, arts-based methods to address their challenges and make a positive impact on communities. The completed project resulted in a PhD in Social Sciences from KU Leuven and a PhD in Public Health from Stellenbosch University.

“I am immensely grateful and humbled by this prestigious honour. This one is for our girls. I believe that in a world where inequalities continue to persist, where the divide between the privileged and the marginalized widens, it becomes our collective responsibility to seek innovative solutions that promote inclusivity and foster positive change," Hendricks says.

Hendricks joined the Department of Global Health at Stellenbosch University in 2015 as researcher and teaching facilitator at the Centre for Evidence Based Health Care and was permanently appointed in the Division of Health Systems and Public Health in 2022 at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences as lecturer.

She is the first Global Minds PhD scholar from South Africa and started her joint PhD in 2018. KU Leuven, Belgium's largest university, selects exceptional students from developing countries as scholarship candidates to obtain their PhD there, with the view of them using the expertise gained when they are home, she says.

“I have always seen myself as a transdisciplinary researcher because of my interest in creative methodologies, community wellbeing, and public health. I therefore registered in different faculties at the respective universities.

“A documentary film (about woman taking HIV treatment) was a creative output within the project. We decided on a documentary and art exhibition to spark conversations with various stakeholders to further inquiry into the phenomenon of adherence to medication for young women living with perinatal infections of HIV. The documentary is a culmination of stories, pictures, experiences, and insights of our co-production team and other stakeholders to shed light on the challenges young women face in what some may think is a simple act of pill-taking. We believed that by using the mediums of film and art we could capture the attention of policymakers, the public, health care practitioners and academics," she says.

“When I heard that the project was nominated for the award, I was so surprised. There are so many amazing projects happening in the world, I could not believe that our project had travelled that far. The team was stunned, anxious and very excited."

Hendricks says they believed that by using the mediums of film and art we could capture the attention of policymakers, the public, health care practitioners and academics. “We were able to capture lived experiences in a very raw and unfiltered way. The power of the assemblage of stories in the film was evident at screening when the entire cinema was in tears and emotionally connected with the storylines. This shifted the perspectives of the co-research team, and we were able to dig deeper into the nuanced experiences of growing up with perinatal infections of HIV and how the material environments we encountered affected adherence to antiretroviral treatment.

“This PhD is unique and special because of its holistic participatory nature and respect for all voices. I started this PhD and wrote into my proposal that it would be based on the values of transparency, respect, honesty, equal intelligence, freedom, and social impact. And at every decision I returned to these values."

Based on the research findings production of a second documentary called Born to Thrive is underway, and other plans include travelling through communities running screenings of the documentary and initiating conversations about how we can enable environments by addressing the social and environmental determinants of health for young women.

“A second follow-up project is to complete a novella which will be aimed at teenagers and encompasses the stories of our co-researchers into a fictional character and how they navigate home, family, community, relationships, and the health care systems, with insights into real-life experiences which we could not share in previous outputs."

The novella will be co-produced and distributed to libraries and schools.

“I believe that this work will make way for other researchers to dabble in the arts and find the nexus between art and science."

Hendricks still finds time to do outreach work as co-founder and director of Hearts in Action, an NPC in Kraaifontein and Brackenfell that was started during the lockdown. Their work currently focuses on arts-based workshops with young people on career aspirations and gender-based violence. They have also served closed to 275 000 meals with more than 60 volunteers.

She also owns a business, Research Ambition, which assists students with their research projects. “When I was a student, I found these kinds of services inaccessible due to pricing and availability. I decided to start a firm that students could access for low cost and to acquire experience in research related activities."

A shining example of the incredible progress that is possible when education is turned into action.

Watch the unedited version of the documentary 'More than a pill' on YouTube: ​