New Beginnings for HIV Prevention Research in Africa
Advances in science in the last two decades have led to tremendous progress against HIV. Breakthroughs in HIV treatment and prevention research have allowed the HIV community to halt and begin to reverse spread of the HIV epidemic. Biomedical approaches such as rapid and user-friendly HIV tests and affordable and effective antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV have changed the landscape of the HIV response. Other impactful prevention tools have included voluntary medical male circumcision, male and female condoms, and oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), among others.
All the same, the fight against HIV is far from won. HIV prevention efforts across the world have all but stagnated. According to UNAIDS, 2.1 million people became newly infected with HIV around the world in 2015. To end HIV as an epidemic by 2030, the world will need to do more, deploying traditional tools while developing new tools to accelerate the fight against the disease.
Research and development around new tools to help bolster HIV response is fundamental. It is why a new initiative called the Coalition to Accelerate and Support Prevention Research (CASPR) is exciting. Funded by USAID, and supported by PEPFAR, the coalition seeks to strengthen Africa-focused and led HIV biomedical prevention research, implementation and advocacy. The fact that the coalition is Africa focused is also fundamental because Africa has been left behind in many research and development issues.
The CASPR network, led by AVAC, brings together several Africa-based partners—including the Research institute of the University of the Witwatersrand (WRHI), WACI Health, HIV/AIDS Vaccine Ethics Group (HAVEG), the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) and the Advocacy for Prevention of HIV and AIDS (APHA)– to accelerate HIV prevention research in Africa. These groups along with partners with longstanding engagement in the region, including IAVI, FHI 360, Avenir Health, and Internews, will work collaboratively to build a network dedicated to advancing advocacy, policy, regulatory, community engagement and communications efforts that help accelerate biomedical HIV prevention research.
This initiative will support Africa to make its contribution in HIV prevention research, in areas such vaccine development. This is much needed. Africa can play its role, not only advocating for great use of the tools available to defeating HIV but also in contributing to creation of new tools to end the disease as an epidemic.
CASPR seeks to support an Africa-centered network dedicated to advancing biomedical HIV prevention research through a robust network of strategic partnerships and an interconnected array of activities such as linking prevention research advocacy to campaigns for increased domestic financing for health; establishing an African HIV Media Network; expanding the Good Participatory Practice framework; and increasing coordination between research partners, governments and civil society.