Nature Awards for Inclusive Health Research
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Eh!woza Learner Doccies

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posted on 2023-11-29, 15:58 authored by Anastasia Koch


Eh!woza Learner Doccies is an intensive workshop program combining biomedical engagement and filmmaking to engage teenagers in Cape Town. High school learners (aged 14-17) are engaged with local biomedical research through hands-on science workshops covering topics such as drug discovery, vaccinology, and clinical trials. Eh!woza provide learners with equipment and guidance to produce short documentaries about the personal and social impact of infectious diseases. Learners access accurate information, are exposed to a high-impact biomedical research environment, and are empowered to tell their stories. Postgraduate students facilitate workshops, highlighting the relevance of their scientific work within the South African context. Eh!woza facilitate screenings within the community to stimulate discussion around health and disease, sharing documentaries on social media and community TV to broaden awareness. 


Anastasia Kosh is the co-founder and co-director of Eh!woza, managing the organization while maintaining an honorary biomedical research position at the University of Cape Town. Interdisciplinarity is a core philosophy at Eh!woza, which has partnerships among diverse stakeholders within the local health environment including academic research groups, civil society, media organizations, and creative professionals.

Key partners include IkamvaYouth, an NGO providing extra-curricular tutoring in under-resourced areas of South Africa. Learners for Eh!woza Learner Doccies are recruited through the Makhaza and Masiphumelele branches of IkamvaYouth, which provide guidance on learner needs, academic commitments, and overall wellbeing. 

Eh!woza also work closely with the MMRU and the IDM. Postgraduate students facilitate workshops and MMRU’s Prof. Digby Warner is one of Eh!woza’s founding directors, providing invaluable strategic and conceptual advice. Eh!woza are also partnered with MESH, an online community engagement platform hosted by The Global Health Network. Together, Interfer, MESH and Eh!woza established Connectors to host a series of virtual events in 2021. In 2022, this culminated in an in-person meeting in Cape Town.


Eh!woza formed through informal collaboration between biomedical postgraduate students, a South African artist, and young people from Khayelitsha, Cape Town where high rates of HIV, TB, and COVID-19 affect unemployment and poverty. Eh!woza combines public engagement, science communication, youth advocacy and skills development to associate the biomedicine of infectious disease with its social impact. 

In 2013, Anastasia co-founded Eh!woza with conceptual artist Ed Young while completing her PhD at the Institute of Infectious Disease and Molecular Medicine (IDM) at the University of Cape Town (UCT). Anastasia was passionate about the social determinants of health and became aware of the lack of opportunities for science students to engage with communities affected by the diseases they were studying. Leveraging their respective expertise, Ed and Anastasia established Eh!woza, with Eh!woza Learner Doccies as their first project. The work was carefully implemented and administrated via the IDM and UCT. At the time, initiatives for community engagement were limited to “must-do” approaches such as research feedback. This was often facilitated by clinical research groups, leaving little opportunity for science students (molecular biologists, immunologists, microbiologists, etc.) to use their knowledge to engage affected communities. Moreover, expertise from outside of biomedicine (e.g. social sciences, arts) was rarely used to develop and enhance engagement outcomes. 

Over the next 6 years, Eh!woza implemented several projects using workshops and film to engage young people and to give affected communities a platform to reflect the experiential and social impact of these diseases. In 2020, Eh!woza received a discretionary award from the Wellcome Trust to transition towards independence, establishing Eh!woza as an NGO that could grow into a sustainable platform for high quality and locally relevant public engagement.

The Initiative

Eh!woza was established after Anastasia had an informal conversation with Ed about the lack of avenues to engage with individuals and communities affected by TB and by the lack of creativity and energy within existing engagement initiatives. They developed Eh!woza Learner Doccies and subsequent projects to address this gap, and were pleased and humbled by the positive response. Importantly, the partnership with Ed was not developed as a scientist or biomedical research institute “commissioning” an artist for a discrete project: Ed’s conceptual and visual arts expertise was of equal value to the biomedical in developing ideas and implementing Eh!woza’s work. This formed the foundation for a highly collaborative working environment. 

Documentary film production by learners serve multiple intentions. Films provide a mechanism for learners to represent the impact of HIV, TB, and COVID-19 on their lives and show how these diseases interact with poverty, substance abuse, lack of healthcare access, and mental health. Filmmaking workshops allow learners to develop technical skills in camera work and editing. By retaining complete editorial control over films, learners develop agency to tell their own stories. 

Eh!woza focuses on engaging young people, primarily high school learners in Khayelitsha. In 2021, they expanded to Masiphumelele, another township just outside of Cape Town, and have piloted in Johannesburg and Gaborone, Botswana. Townships in South Africa are vestiges of previous apartheid policies and Khayelitsha continues to face overcrowding, unemployment, poverty, and high rates of HIV, TB, and COVID-19. Young people disseminate the information learned from workshops to their peers and older generations. By exposing young people to local biomedical research rather than health information, Eh!woza provides accurate information and instills hope solutions to HIV and TB are being sought within South Africa. 


When developing programs, Eh!woza consult with a network of stakeholders to ensure their work produces the greatest possible benefit to participants. They seek advice and input from partners with specific experience in both geographic and intellectual areas of implementation and are eager to learn from institutions with proven records of effectively working in health. 

Eh!woza Learner Doccies was developed in close partnership with IkamvaYouth, one of the most highly respected NGOs in South Africa. Makhaza branch managers also provided critical input programming to benefit learners without compromising their academic commitments. IkamvaYouth advise on the development of new programs by providing insight into current dynamics with the broader community, exploring how Eh!woza’s work can be of most value. 

Other projects involve collaboration with the Khayelitsha Mission of Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to engage young adult survivors of drug-resistant TB. Working with MSF provided input on logistically structuring workshops and on the psychosocial wellness of participants. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Eh!woza worked closely with the Social Justice Coalition to understand and depict how COVID-19 was both exacerbating and being exacerbated by social conditions within Khayelitsha. A set of documentaries exposing these issues were broadcast on local and national TV, with significant editorial guidance and input around appropriate storytelling provided by the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism

Eh!woza continually engage with participants before, during, and after workshops to understand workshops’ impact and how they can be improved. Eh!woza benefit from access to a range of biomedical research leaders and often seek input from members of the this community, primarily at the IDM, to ensure their work is accurate, relevant, and ethical. Finally, the Wellcome Trust has provided valuable strategic input and facilitated connections to relevant partners.


Eh!woza have engaged over 100 learners since 2013, resulting in 20 documentaries. Eh!woza designed intensive and tailored engagement with a smaller group of participants rather than attempting to reach bigger numbers with more generic approaches. Pre-and post-workshop survey-based assessment collected since 2018 suggests learners gain knowledge about the biomedical basis of infectious disease and approaches to conducting biomedical research. Through the course of the workshop, surveys show trust in science is increased.


The Wellcome Trust The South African National Research Foundation


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