Friday, 31 October 2014

A reminder of scientific progress (past, present and future)


CRYSTAL NG writes: A man caught my eye this week.
He’s an 8-meter-high sculpture towering over passersby of the Cape Town International Convention Centre. His name is Olduvai, a nod to the Rift Valley area that scientists believe was home to some of humankind’s oldest ancestors.

It’s fitting that a symbol of “human endeavour” (per the artist) is bearing witness to this week’s HIV R4P Conference – itself a testimony to ongoing global efforts to push the boundaries of HIV prevention science.

Olduvai even sports the same color as the red ribbon that has come to mark HIV/AIDS awareness and support.

Yet it is women who bear the burden of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is women who make up the majority of HIV-positive adults in sub-Saharan Africa; women who are often forced to withdraw from school or employment to take care of HIV-infected relatives – or themselves; and young women who are twice as likely worldwide to be infected as young men.

Several presentations have highlighted progress in developing new prevention tools and new ways to deliver existing tools – from new insights into cellular mechanisms to advances in developing vaginal rings, gels and tablets to rolling out options like PrEP and combination prevention packages. There have also been some exciting announcements, including the termination of the placebo arm of ANRS’s IPERGAY study due to high PrEP effectiveness.

We still have work to do for women. As we head into the last sessions of the conference, I am already looking ahead to R4P 2016. By then, we could have results from three Phase III trials of two women-initiated products: 1% tenofovir vaginal gel used around the time of sex (developed by CONRAD with results expected in early 2015) and the dapivirine monthly vaginal ring (developed by the International Partnership for Microbicides with results expected in 2016).

This week, Chris Beyrer stressed the need to “know your epidemic.” We know the impact of the epidemic on women – and I’m so encouraged by the progress being made to help them protect themselves. Perhaps the next time I see Olduvai, he’ll be heralding a new prevention landscape for women.

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