Dr Sarah Bernays


Assistant Professor

I have over ten years of experience working at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) in international public health qualitative research, focusing on HIV, harm reduction and adolescent global health. A consistent concern throughout all my research to date has been how individuals, households and communities respond to health adversity, risk and vulnerability and what fosters and sustains resilience and hope. Since 2011 I have been developing and leading a large qualitative research programme focusing on adolescent global health.

Having studied Social Anthropology at Edinburgh University, I began working at the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour in 2005 which transferred from Imperial College to LSHTM in 2006. Whilst working I completed my PhD in Medical Sociology in 2011, which examined the process of and influences on coping, hoping and community action amongst people living with HIV/AIDS in Serbia. Prior to working at LSHTM I worked in HIV community work in the UK, East and West Africa and the South West Pacific.


Department of Health Services Research and Policy
Faculty of Public Health and Policy
Department of Social and Environmental Health Research


Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive & Child Health (MARCH)


I take a lead role in designing and delivering the qualitative reseach training to MSc and research-degree students at the School and within the Bloomsbury Consortium. Having been the module organiser for Qualitative Methodologies, I now lecture on this course and on the REproductive Health Matters module.  I also am tutor on the MSc in Public Health and a seminar leader on Principles of Social Research

A significant element of my work is focused on buidling the social science research capacity within LSHTM and also within our research teams in Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa. I do this through ongoing mentoring and PhD supervision as well as delivering training workshops and courses. 


My current research focuses on adolescent global health. I run a qualitative longitudinal research programme exploring the experiences of young people growing with HIV and/ or exposed to high HIV risk. The programme includes a number of qualitative studies being run in Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa- as well as the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Many of these qualitative research studies are embedded within large international clinical trials and we are developing innovative methods for conducting research with vulnerable families. As such, although my primary expertise is in qualitative methodologies, I tend to work in a large multidisciplinary team and collaborate with clinicians, epidemiologists, ethicists and statisticians to address research questions through multiple methods. My main aim is to develop theoretically informed qualitative evidence, which can have an applied impact on improving adolescent health. 

I am working on the following studies: 

The development of a Youth Trials Board model, which aims to develop a simple low-cost model of meaningful engagement and participation of adolescent patient representatives in paediatric clinical trials and research studies. This is being developed and piloted with teams of young people and clinical researchers in UK, Uganda, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

I am the social science lead on the 'Zvandiri trial', which is a large evaluation of a community support programme in Zimbabwe, employing a cluster randomised trial design. Our team are reponsible for an extensive qualitative study and the process evaluation components of this trial. This trial is a collaboration between CeSHAAR, AfricAid and LSHTM.  

'Finding your feet', is a qualitative longitudinal study in Kwazulu Natal in South Africa and Kalungu in Uganda running from 2016-2108. It will investigate the sexual health risks of young people’s mobility and migration, as well as the opportunities to improve their access to preventive and therapeutic sexual health care. 

'ODYSSEY- social science' is  a large qualitative study within a clinical trial based in Uganda and Zimbabwe on the experiences of young people living with HIV who are moved onto second line Anti-retroviral Therapy and is aimed at developing more appropriate and effective adherence support for those on second line.  This study is being conducted in collaboration with the Clincial TRials Unit (CTU) at University College London (UCL). 

I am in the process of completing the following studies. 

BREATHER- Examining the acceptability of the Short Cycle Therapy (five days on anti-retroviral treatment and two days off), which is a behavioural and clinical intervention, to improve adherence amongst young people living with HIV (10-24 years old). This is a longitudinal study (starting in 2011) using mixed qualitative methods with approximately 50 participants (repeat in-depth interviews, focus groups and audio diaries) with a cohort of clinical trial participants and their carers in Uganda, UK and the USA. This has been run in collaboration with the CTU at UCL. 

Growing up alongside HIV, (starting in 2014), is also a longitudinal study exploring the experiences of young people and their carers (a sample of 60 12-24 years olds and 30 carers) in three settings of high HIV prevalence in Uganda. This study examines how risks and harm reduction strategies are influenced by poverty, gender, HIV status and substance use. 

Research Area
Clinical trials
Sexual health
Substance abuse
Adolescent health
Global Health
Qualitative methods
Disease and Health Conditions
Chronic disease
United Kingdom
United States
South Africa
Europe & Central Asia (all income levels)
European Union
Sub-Saharan Africa (developing only)
Sub-Saharan Africa (all income levels)

Selected Publications

When information does not suffice: young people living with HIV and communication about ART adherence in the clinic.
Bernays, S. ; Paparini, S. ; Gibb, D. ; Seeley, J. ;
Vulnerable Child Youth Stud
BREATHER (PENTA 16) short-cycle therapy (SCT) (5 days on/2 days off) in young people with chronic human immunodeficiency virus infection: an open, randomised, parallel-group Phase II/III trial.
Butler, K.; Inshaw, J.; Ford, D.; Bernays, S.; Scott, K.; Kenny, J.; Klein, N.; Turkova, A.; Harper, L.; Nastouli, E.; Paparini, S.; Choudhury, R.; Rhodes, T.; Babiker, A.; Gibb, D.;
Health Technol Assess
What am I 'living' with? Growing up with HIV in Uganda and Zimbabwe.
Bernays, S.; Seeley, J.; Rhodes, T.; Mupambireyi, Z.;
Sociol Health Illn
Children growing up with HIV infection: the responsibility of success.
Bernays, S. ; Jarrett, P. ; Kranzer, K. ; Ferrand, R.A. ;
Embodied Accounts of HIV and Hope Using Audio Diaries With Interviews
Bernays, S.; Rhodes, T.; Terzic, K.J.
Qualitative Health Research
See all Dr Sarah Bernays's Publications