VUKA Family Program: Supporting Perinatally HIV-infected youth in South Africa

Principal Investigator: 

Mary McKernan McKay, PhD


Claude Ann Mellins, PhD

Arvin Bhana, PhD

Inge Petersen, PhD

Funding Agency:

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD)

Collaborating Institution: 

New York University,

University of KwaZulu-Natal

Study Location:

Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


The primary aim of the VUKA study is to meet the urgent need for theory-driven, empirically- informed, effective, and sustainable HIV prevention and care approaches for the unprecedented numbers of perinatally HIV-infected (PHIV+) youth in South Africa (SA). With one of the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world, communities within the province of KwaZulu-Natal and the South Africa Department of Health are severely challenged to meet the complex needs of a growing number of surviving perinatally HIV-infected youth who must now cope with HIV as a chronic, highly stigmatized, and transmittable illness. 

This study aims to 1) increase our understanding of behavioral and health risk in this emerging population, and 2) to examine the impact of a family/household-level intervention, the VUKA Family Program (VUKA), to promote youth overall health and mental health, and reduce behavioral risk. Informed by Social Action Theory (SAT) and the PRISM (Practical, Robust Implementation and Sustainability Model) theoretical framework, VUKA is a cartoon-based intervention developed with intensive input from SA investigators, graphic artists, medical staff, adult caregivers and HIV+ adolescents.