PxROAR “Raves” in Europe and the United States

AVAC hosted a two-day training “Rave” at its New York office in April. This annual workshop brings together US-based advocates from AVAC’s PxROAR (Prevention Research Outreach Advocacy and Representation) program for an intensive update on the latest in the field of biomedical HIV prevention research and implementation, and provides a space for advocacy strategizing. This year’s focus was on treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

The recently expanded US ROAR team hails mainly from the 12 US municipalities bearing the highest AIDS burden in the country, as identified by the US Health and Human Services National HIV/AIDS Strategy Operational Plan. ROAR members are already active on the frontlines of the AIDS response in these areas and will be expanding or strengthening their work on treatment as prevention and PrEP. In one initiative discussed at the April meeting, PxROAR members decided to examine available data on rates of uptake of HIV testing, linkage to care, initiation of and long-term adherence to ART. They hope to use information on these “treatment cascades” to guide advocacy at the state and city level. They also plan to work with PrEP demonstration projects and research sites to spread the word about this prevention strategy. For more detail about US ROAR’s pursuits, read the PxROAR Advocacy Guide for US ARV-based Prevention Campaign.

AVAC also hosted a “Rave” for its European partners. This month’s Brussels meeting brought together advocates from Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom. Participants discussed soliciting new European ROAR members and strategized around securing and sustaining European funding for research and implementation of ARV-based prevention. Jean-Daniel Lelièvre’s from France’s INSERM provided an update on European research towards a cure. His presentation underscored the need for advocacy directed at national governments and the European Commission to maintain funding for research even during difficult economic times.

Also in Europe, AVAC is collaborating with UK-based NAM/AIDSMAP on a series of webinars for HIV prevention advocates in Europe. On Tuesday, June 11 we will be holding a webinar on HIV cure research. Sign up for our Advocates’ Network newsletter to be notified when more information is available.

Exploring Treatment as Prevention in South Africa

AVAC 2013 Advocacy Fellow, Mickey Meji, has been speaking with South African community members to better understand how treatment as prevention might work for key populations in the country.

The South African government is working to reduce the number of new HIV infections in the country, setting specific targets, but none of these discuss how treatment as prevention (TasP) approaches might impact key populations or address their needs. That is why I chose to gather information about these populations’ experiences and opinions with respect to treatment as prevention and educate individuals living with HIV about TasP so they are able to engage in discussions on the topic and its impact on their communities.

As part of my Fellows project, I spoke with men who have sex with men, sex workers and transgendered people in four provinces in South Africa. They were HIV-positive, negative or unaware of their status. I was nervous at first, not knowing what to expect, but I quickly got the hang of it. I got more comfortable and those speaking with me more readily shared their stories. I found that those taking treatment primarily took medicine for their own health but a few did to reduce transmission to others. Only one person in our consultations mentioned taking PrEP. Feelings were mixed among HIV-negative participants over whether they would use PrEP or not were it available to them.

Over the coming month, I will conclude my community consultations. Then I will work with other AVAC Fellows in South Africa to analyze the information. These findings will guide my future work advocating for the health and rights of these populations.

AVAC is please to announce the call for 2014 Advocacy Fellowship applications. Much more information on the program, including a three-minute informational video, and application details are available at www.avac.org/2014fellowsapps.

HIV Vaccine Awareness Day Commemorated Around the World

Each year on May 18, the global HIV/AIDS community commemorates HIV Vaccine Awareness Day (HVAD). This year, AVAC worked with civil society and research partners from across the globe on a number of community events to mark the date.

From Beijing to Bangkok, through 12 cities in Africa1 around to New York, Oakland and Los Angeles in the United States, HIV prevention advocates organized a range of events to highlight pressing issues facing the vaccine field today. They also took time to recognize the contribution of trial volunteers, advocates, researchers, funders and policy makers working towards a safe and effective HIV vaccine.

Advocates marched. They wrote editorials in newspapers. They spoke on radio and television. They blogged, tweeted and Skyped. Each of the HVAD events included community voices. “One of the highlights from our event in Harare was the conversation on community engagement in research processes. It’s important for us as community advocates to be meaningfully engaged in research at all levels,” said Tendayi Westerhof, organizer of a May 21 event in Zimbabwe, Sensitizing Community on the Value of HIV Vaccine Research.

For a full list of events, visit our HIV Vaccine Awareness Day page, which includes an Advocacy Toolkit with a range of materials breaking down complex AIDS vaccine science.

1 Nairobi, Kisumu and Thika in Kenya; Kampala and Luwero in Uganda; Jos and Lagos in Nigeria; Lusaka in Zambia; Harare in Zimbabwe; and Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa.