On December 9th, AVAC and partners will hold a congressional briefing aimed at preserving funding for the US Military HIV Research Program (MHRP). The Department of the Army is considering cutting over 70 percent of the MHRP Army research budget in 2012. The upcoming briefing will inform Congressional staff about the potential impact of the cuts prior to the upcoming vote on the US Department of Defense appropriations bill. The potential reduction in the MHRP budget cut comes at a time when international vaccine research is building on the results of the landmark RV144 study, which was conducted by the MHRP with Thai collaborators and showed the first evidence that an AIDS vaccine could protect against infection. Subsequent follow-up studies which also included MHRP scientists have identified immune correlates linked to risk of infection among vaccine recipients. AVAC has been working with partners since this summer to urge the US Congress and the Obama Administration to restore MHRP funding through visits, sign-on letters and blog postings.
On October 20th, AVAC and the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) conducted a national workshop on the Good Participatory Practice (GPP) guidelines. About 70 individuals participated, representing research teams throughout the country, community advisory boards, advocacy and civil society groups, and media. The workshop was designed as a key step forward in building stronger relationships between the media and Zambian research stakeholders. In 2009, media reports disseminated inaccurate rumors regarding a large-scale microbicide trial, MDP 301. As a result, the Zambian Ministry of Health temporarily halted all HIV prevention research in the country. Today, prevention trials are being approved and initiated once again and work is ongoing to strengthen media reporting capacity. The past year—in part due to AVAC Fellow Oliver Kanene’s work—has marked a thawing of the relationship between researchers and the media. Introducing the guidelines to this audience helped put a needed and appreciated framework around how to navigate relationships between researchers and other stakeholders. Media and other key groups, namely regulatory and ethics authorities, are extremely excited to develop a “national GPP consensus” that will mitigate possible controversy in the future and ensure that research can move forward in this country.