HIV Advocates Respond to the COVID-19 Crisis

May 21, 2020

This post first appeared on For more information on COVID-19, please consult our COVID-19 and HIV Resources page, which includes a comprehensive set of information and advocacy Resources for Advocates. Daisy Ouya is AVAC’s Communications Advisor.

The COVID-19 pandemic demands that everyone apply their skills, resources and networks to empower communities and ease collective suffering.

The USAID-supported Coalition to Accelerate and Support Prevention Research (CASPR) was created in 2016 to expand robust advocacy efforts around HIV prevention research. We are a network of research-literate HIV prevention advocates working globally with an emphasis on sub-Saharan Africa. The Coalition places a special focus on literacy in infectious diseases, clinical research and trial design, through its long-standing partnerships with local and regional civil society, researchers, national governments, normative agencies and the media.

Although HIV and SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) have many important differences, such as mode of transmission, infectivity, case-fatality and global distribution, this emerging pandemic emergency has given rise to many déjà vu moments where the well-honed HIV advocacy skills of CASPR members can be applied. And we are rising to the challenge.

Using virtual gatherings, public statements, media trainings, blogs, podcasts and social media, the Coalition is actively debunking misconceptions, conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine and anti-research narratives. We are empowering our communities to recognize the myths and outright disinformation about COVID-19 and about research, and actively promoting the only evidence-based prevention options currently known: physical distancing, handwashing, and the proper use of face masks.

We are educating communities on efforts toward vaccines and therapeutics, the research and development process, the ethical principles that govern clinical research globally, and the strengths and limitations of mathematical modelling as it applies to the COVID-19 and HIV epidemiology. In parallel, we are highlighting the importance of global cooperation in COVID-19 research through initiatives such as the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition. A recent global webinar and new podcast examine the huge contributions of HIV vaccine research and partnerships to the current search for COVID-19 vaccines and therapies, but also how current COVID-19 research is likely to contribute to HIV vaccine research.

Ethical research for solutions to COVID-19 requires that communities be fully engaged. The UNAIDS/AVAC Good Participatory Practice Guidelines for biomedical HIV prevention trials, the World Health Organization’s Good Participatory Practice for Trials of Emerging Pathogens (GPP-EP), and the UNAIDS/WHO Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects are key references in human rights-based research conduct. Ethical considerations also demand a swift and equitable delivery of testing, treatment and prevention options, prioritizing those most at risk.

While recognizing the global havoc wreaked by the novel coronavirus pandemic, we are tracking and condemning the proliferation of dehumanizing and stigmatizing language. We are advocating strongly against branding people ‘COVID suspects’, ‘super-spreaders’ or worse. Our recent webinars with journalists in Africa and India discussed journalists’ safety in COVID-19 reporting, as well as the role and power of language in the response.

Renowned African researchers and advocates have featured on webinars we have hosted to unpack the effect of COVID-19 on HIV prevention clinical trials and health services in Africa. Several CASPR members have been asked to contribute to radio and television panels in our respective countries to discuss the pandemic and its intersection with HIV.

We are pushing for an age- and gender-responsive, human rights-based approach to COVID-19—like the decades of HIV activism that has shaped the response to HIV & AIDS. Our goal is to ensure that equity and our shared humanity is at the center of the response at all levels and confers special protection for those likely to suffer the greatest socio-economic shocks and deleterious health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is crucial that we renew our advocacy to strengthen health systems and to expand African domestic funding for health, as countries urgently mobilize their healthcare resources to deal with the COVID-19 crisis.

As for HIV, we are tracking COVID-19 research and pipeline of products and documenting the profound effects the COVID-19 crisis is having on promising HIV efficacy trials in communities. We stand with fellow advocates and researchers who have identified the need for an efficient resumption of HIV prevention research as soon as it is safe to do so.

This HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, we celebrate and thank the clinical trial participants, health workers, researchers and funders coming together to develop durable public health solutions for humanity.