HIV R4P Conference

27 November 2014
Deborah Baron

More than 1,300 researchers, advocates, policy makers and journalists working in biomedical prevention research - from ARV-based prevention and vaccines to medical male circumcision - joined together to address the cross-cutting and dynamic issues of our rapidly evolving fields.

The new scientific conference, HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P), gathered more than 1,300 researchers, advocates, policy makers and journalists working in biomedical prevention research - from ARV-based prevention and vaccines to medical male circumcision - to address the cross-cutting and dynamic issues of our rapidly evolving fields.

Professor Helen Rees, Co-chair of this inaugural conference and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI), a STRIVE partner, opened the conference. Drawing powerful parallels between the stigma and fear of the early days of the AIDS pandemic and the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Prof Rees reminded the participants that AIDS has always required a scientific as well as political respons: individual human rights and broader social and structural level programmes and interventions all play key roles in the public health response to epidemics.

Helen Rees

While reflecting on the recent achievements and milestones of the biomedical field, the overall conference looked forward toward new issues and challenges on the horizon. Many presentations concerned the implementation of new scientific discoveries, such as PrEP. From an innovative Pharmacokinetics (PK) study (Betsy Herold, Oral Abstract 13.05 on Wed 29 Oct) that enrolled couples and took samples before and after they had sex and used gel (in the privacy of a hotel room) to determine if the timing of using a vaginal microbicide impacts the drug level and its effectiveness, to assessments of good participatory practice in clinical trial implementation (Oral Abstract Session 19), this conference highlighted how scientists, trialists and community stakeholders alike are moving beyond “business as usual” to explore new and creative approaches that address the often complex and challenging realities of people’s lives, especially those most at risk of HIV.  

Ironically, the biggest news of the conference came from a continent away. Two European PrEP studies (PROUD and Ipergay) have shown significant protective effect. As a consequence, they will stop the delayed arms of their studies to offer all men who have sex with men (MSM) participants access to oral PrEP. This news shifted the tone of the PrEP discussions. The question was no longer whether to roll out PrEP but rather how, how fast and which groups to prioritise. As the conference gained momentum, the cautious talk of small-scale demonstration projects gave way to discussions around the need for larger implementation and roll-out of PrEP, especially for key populations of MSM and sex workers. Other speakers focused on young African women as a key population at high risk of HIV.

Of particular interest for STRIVE:

  • Jared Baeten gave a plenary presentation on lessons learned from PrEP studies with women
  • Wits RHI’s Sinead Delany-Moretlwe delivered a symposium talk on “Combination Prevention: From Trials to Implementation” 
  • Jonathan Stadler, also from Wits RHI, provided insights into social and structural factors in a talk on “Why Context Matters in Understanding the Challenges to Clinical Trials”

 R4P Audience

At the end of the day, this conference was a clear success. Vaccine researchers rubbed elbows with ARV-prevention advocates while PrEP advocates learned about broadly neutralising antibodies in vaccine development. While this cross-fertilisation got people out of their technology-specific silos, many sessions still focused on specific disciplines. Looking ahead to 2016, we hope the next conference will do even more to step outside research comfort zones. We need to tackle the broader structural and social factors that can either impede or facilitate the implementation of these exciting new biomedical prevention research innovations. We at STRIVE look forward to helping making that happen.

Session webcasts can be found here, and then searching by author or title.

URL link: http://webcasts.hivr4p.org/portal;jsessionid=BAE9082057774A30972035D3404B1126