Coming from the community of people living with and affected by HIV, l believe HIV prevention tools should be accessible and affordable for all and to those who need them most. As an HIV prevention advocate and public health practitioner, I strive to empower communities to demand and access quality health services. Today, I share with you my five key takeaways on the need to ensure globally accessible tools to end the HIV epidemic.
- Focus on HIV prevention research
There is no magic bullet to end HIV by 2030. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to compromise HIV services and research programs, we must keep our eyes on the target and accelerate HIV prevention research to develop new and effective HIV prevention tools. This must also include a vaccine to end the epidemic. To achieve this, global solidarity will be key, meaning collaboration with policy makers, scientists, and communities to increase HIV prevention research funding.
- Access to a range of affordable products
Women and girls have for too long had limited HIV prevention options that they can control. We must ensure women can make informed choices via globally accessible tools that work for them, like the Dapivirine ring which received World Health Organization (WHO) prequalification on Nov. 30. This will require us to work with all stakeholders, including governments, funders, and pharmaceutical companies to ensure that biomedical interventions are affordable and accessible to those who need them most, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Education is an essential part of any access plan, ensuring that end-users have adequate information about the tools available, as well as ongoing research, so that they can make informed choices while also empowering communities to demand these products and services.
- African solutions for African problems
Problems that disproportionately affect people in Africa, like HIV, deserve African solutions. African scientists must be at the frontline in solving these problems. To facilitate this, the global health community must empower, fund, and accelerate African-based research while ensuring that the science is responsive to the needs of the communities the research serves. Local HIV advocates also need to have a seat at the table to bridge the gap between science and communities and make sure that any solution works for the people who need it most.
- Capacity strengthening
We must strengthen the capacity that we already have in Africa. By enhancing the skills of the entire research network, including lab technicians, HIV prevention advocates, and sociobehavioral researchers, we can accelerate the development of effective and accessible prevention tools, for Africans, by Africans. We must also not ignore the role of other stakeholders, such as policymakers, to ensure that they are equipped with the knowledge and resources to advocate for products that will work for their constituents.
- Prioritize community engagement
Community engagement is an ethical imperative to make HIV prevention tools globally accessible. This can be facilitated by abiding by good participatory practices at each step of the research process. This can help ensure community ownership while making sure that research meets end-users’ needs.
We cannot tackle the HIV epidemic with a single prevention option. I advocate for HIV prevention research because HIV prevention technologies will be most effective and accessible when they are developed in collaboration with those who need them most. As HIV prevention research continues to evolve, the global community must strengthen its resolve to accelerate the development of a diverse toolkit of interventions that can be accessed by all.