We are in the midst of a golden age in HIV prevention research. As planning enters high gear for the IAS – the International AIDS Society – 2021 HIV Research for Prevention Conference (HIVR4P // Virtual), I’ve been reflecting on some enormous prevention advances reported over the past year and some significant challenges ahead. Both will take centre stage at the biennial HIVR4P conference, the only global meeting focused exclusively on HIV prevention science.
This next edition of HIVR4P, to be held virtually on 27–28 January and 3–4 February 2021, could not be better timed. It comes on the heels of multiple prevention advances reported at the 23rd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2020: Virtual).
At AIDS 2020: Virtual, delegates got the first look at data showing that long-acting injectable pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is more effective than a daily pill in men who have sex with men and transgender women. Also presented, among many others, was: evidence that improving access to PrEP reduced infections by three-quarters among men and women at high risk in Kenya and Uganda and led to significant drops in infections for women in Cape Town, South Africa; new research supporting harm reduction to reduce HIV in Ukraine and Tanzania; and evidence of dramatic declines in vertical HIV transmission in India, among many others.
The past year also brought the positive European Medicines Agency opinion on the dapivirine vaginal ring and the launch of the Mosaico HIV vaccine study, among many other advances in prevention. Results of the first Phase III studies of antibody-mediated prevention, a potential new prevention tool, are expected later in 2020 and should be one of many focal points of HIVR4P // Virtual.
HIVR4P // Virtual also takes place at a time of enormous challenges for prevention. HIV research is advancing the search for COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, but COVID-19 is delaying major HIV prevention studies and slowing access to prevention, treatment and care for HIV and many related conditions. And we still face multiple obstacles that predate COVID-19.
HIV remains stubbornly entrenched in many global regions and is even growing in many places among young people, drug users, men who have sex with men, sex workers and incarcerated people. HIV stigma, along with regressive laws and policies, continues to limit access to prevention, including testing. We still need to bridge enormous gaps between the promise of HIV research and the realities of access for millions of people in need worldwide. We also need to expand funding and political leadership to reach the full global potential of the HIV prevention tools we have worked so hard to develop.
HIVR4P // Virtual presents a unique opportunity to develop collaborative responses to these challenges. In addition to being the only global research meeting focused exclusively on prevention science, the conference is also noted for its commitment to collaboration and inclusivity. The researchers, advocates, funders and policy makers attending HIVR4P // Virtual represent every global region and every field of prevention science. That broad participation, along with the leadership of the IAS, uniquely positions the conference to help translate scientific advances into effective health policy.
I can also share that alongside HIVR4P // Virtual, the IAS will host the virtual COVID-19 Conference: Prevention examining COVID-19 related prevention advances. We will announce more on that separately this month, October 2020.
HIVR4P // Virtual and the IAS COVID-19 Conference: Prevention will be the first International AIDS Society conferences to be held since I assumed the presidency of the IAS. I could not be more excited, both about the opportunities that lie ahead to make real and lasting progress against this epidemic, and by the prospect of bringing together the most dynamic leaders in HIV and COVID-19 prevention research, implementation and advocacy. We have our work cut out for us. I hope to see you there!