International AIDS Conference
International AIDS Conference
Source/Disclosures
Source:

Bekker LG, et al. Where we are with HIV prevention research. Presented at: International AIDS Conference; July 6-10, 2020 (virtual meeting).

Disclosures: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm related financial disclosures for Bekker, Makura and Mgodi at the time of publication.
July 08, 2020
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Researchers highlight importance of youth, women in HIV prevention research

Source/Disclosures
Source:

Bekker LG, et al. Where we are with HIV prevention research. Presented at: International AIDS Conference; July 6-10, 2020 (virtual meeting).

Disclosures: Infectious Disease News was unable to confirm related financial disclosures for Bekker, Makura and Mgodi at the time of publication.
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Researchers discussed HIV prevention research during a press conference at the AIDS 2020 meeting, highlighting the importance of involving young people and women.

The event included perspectives from various researchers on successful interventions and disruptions to treatment because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Linda-Gail Bekker, MBChB, PhD, deputy director of the University of Cape Town’s Desmond Tutu HIV Centre and immediate past president of the International AIDS Society, said the pandemic has drawn attention away from HIV resources and services, but that public health platforms used to aid the COVID-19 pandemic can be potentially useful for HIV prevention.

Bekker discussed the importance of alternative forms of HIV prevention, such as the dapivirine vaginal ring, which has been shown to reduce HIV risk by an estimated 39%.

“We can push this envelope a little further and get to a point where everybody has an option that fits their own lives,” Bekker said.

Cleopatra Sheilla Makura, a 2019 Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention advocacy fellow, spoke about alternative prevention methods for women and the importance of young people in the HIV landscape.

“Women require multiple prevention options that meet their needs and fit within the context of their lives,” Makura said. “Women are a diverse group, and there is a need for multiple options so that they can choose what suits them best — just like we have contraception options to choose from.”

Makura noted that young people are both “users” and “designers” of new HIV mitigation efforts and emphasized that power imbalance plays a role in access to prevention methods.

“We have to pave the way for new HIV prevention methods,” she said. “We do not want to wait to bring young people into the picture, especially women, when research is done.”

Makura said introducing and educating young people about prevention methods, especially PrEP, is a vital effort.

Nyaradzo Mgodi, MBChB, MMed, clinical pathologist and principal investigator at the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences and Clinical Trials Research Center, also noted the disruptions to HIV research caused by COVID-19.

“At the moment, I’m quite happy with the progress that we as HIV prevention researchers have [had],” Mgodi said. “Unfortunately, with COVID-19, as we heard yesterday, some of the good work that we have done may be derailed due to restrictions, the supply chain and many other issues.”

Bekker addressed the question of whether the COVID-19 response could potentially improve HIV prevention networks in the future.

“We don’t have to build these platforms from scratch,” Bekker said. “The platforms exist and are ready to go — and they are platforms that understand infection control, stigma and good participatory practice.”

Bekker noted that repurposing vaccine research sites and certain drugs have been useful in combatting the pandemic. She also noted that education and mobilization of communities for prevention efforts has been made easier because of existing networks for HIV.

“We don’t know how long COVID is going to be active in our countries, so it is important to integrate it into what we do as soon as possible,” she said.

Bekker emphasized the importance of digital communication efforts for both HIV and COVID-19 prevention.

Mgodi noted the importance of protecting special populations like pregnant women from potential infection and stressed the important role of policy makers and advocates.

“We are on the right path, but we can still do better,” she said. “We need to be faster because the more we delay, the more HIV cases we will get. The time is now for the advocate.”