April 6, 2015
Ntando Yola has worked for eight years in HIV prevention research at the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) in Cape Town. In his role as a Community Engagement Coordinator he has worked closely with various national and international HIV prevention Networks. His work has involved working with various community stakeholders, developing and implementing community education programmes, forming partnerships with health service providers and other community based organizations as key stakeholders HIV prevention research. He was also a 2013 AVAC Fellow.
At the 2015 AVAC Partners’ Forum, there was a lot of interest in advocates and activists about the important role scientific research has to play in addressing HIV. How important was it? So important that at a roundtable discussion that started after the day was scheduled to end, a small but dedicated group of participants spent over an hour talking about the current pipeline of “injectable prevention” which includes long acting injectable PrEP (I am currently working at DTHF in Cape Town, where an LAI PrEP trial is getting underway), vaccine trials and, someday, passive immunization (right now these antibodies can only be administered via a three-hour transfusion, as we learned at an incredibly accessible presentation by self-described “lab rat’ Penny Moore).
It was clear from this “after hours” discussion that, whilst the focus of community involvement primarily by researchers is within trial communities, there is a need for basic concepts of research and processes to be understood by these broader groups. Addressing this as a gap can go a long way into creating an even more supportive environment for trials and research. Since when civil society understands core concepts and questions related to biomedical research, they are more likely to engage, inform and participate. This would further ensure a natural progression of successful science to real life public health policy and implementation. Whilst globally, initiatives by organizations like AVAC seek to address this, strong and sustained partnerships between science and civil society with countries remain a lingering question as to how this should happen and whose responsibility it is.
I developed a slide set that summarized the pipeline we grappled with and some of the key findings and suggestions that came out of this meeting. There were more questions than answers, as you’ll see. If you want to learn more, raise new questions—or get involved in providing some answers—please be in touch!