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African Advocates Build Platforms and Networks to Push for HIV Prevention Access and Ethical Research Conduct in Africa

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Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan
Monday, December 11, 2017
HIV Vaccine, General, PrEP

Morenike Oluwatoyin Folayan is an Associate Professor at Obafemi Awolowo University and Coordinator of the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) in Ife, Nigeria. This post first appeared in News Proof.

It was a beautiful sight to behold – the coming together of African advocates for HIV prevention access and conduct of biomedical HIV prevention research that respects the rights and welfare of participants. Acronyms like NHVMAS, AfNHI, VARG, AAVVi.net, APHA, WACIHealth were a delight to hear.

The New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS) was the oldest of the pack. It was formed by Advocates in Nigeria to push for the access of Nigerians to biomedical HIV prevention tools as soon as they were available way back in 2004. It is expanding its scope of work to West Africa and liasing with other networks to expand its work to Africa.

One of its chief liaison is WACIHealth. WACIHealth is focused on promoting increased domestic funding for health in Africa. It expanded its scope of work to include advocacy for HIV prevention commodity access, including promoting domestic investment for biomedical HIV prevention research, in 2011 just ahead of the Abuja+12 conference. Its partnership with NHVMAS led to the successful implementation of the biennial Biomedical HIV Prevention Forum since 2013. The forum serves as a platform for networking, sharing, providing updates and motivating for new action to promote access to HIV prevention tools and investment in ethical conduct of biomedical HIV prevention in Africa.

AfNHI is a birth product of the WACIHealth and NHVMAS with ample midwifery from AVAC. AfNHI envisons seeing Africa free of New HIV Infection. It is led by Africans for Africa and largely marries the vision of both WACIHealth and NHVMAS for the purpose of prevention new HIV infection in Africa. The network was launched during the 2017 Biomedical HIV Prevention pre-conference that held on the 3rd of December 2017 in Abidjan.

Also launched was the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group (VARG). The Group is more global in outlook with members from beyond Africa. The lead of the Group – Tian Johnson – shared the goals and aspiration of the group at the meeting one of which was to be the voice of community advisory boards. The group is largely focused on promoting HIV vaccine research that respects the rights of study participants, and future end users. It tries to address the complex relationship between race, gender, rights and research. One of its most astounding work is the shift it accomplished with respect to PrEP access for all and by all study participants enrolled for HIV vaccine research in South Africa. This landmark shift in the context of designing and implementing HIV prevention research is historical and a huge success worthy of celebration – a proof that the VARG through its members – the VARGers - has the potential to make landmark changes in the way HIV prevention research is designed and implemented in Africa.

Also present at the meeting was Ntando Yola, a founding member of APHA – a group of HIV prevention advocates working in South Africa; and Prince Bahati, a member of AAVVi.net – a group of researchers and advocates who are set to shape the science of HIV vaccine research in Africa.

While it is so heartening to see the evolution of these groups on the continent the hosts the highest number of HIV prevention research, it was clear that more work needs to be done to breed new and many young advocates on the continent. You find the same set of people belonging to the groups. This comes with its challenges – how novel and distinct can the concepts and ideas of these groups be? How do they deal with conflicts of interest? How do the organisations handle the financial resources from funders?

The AVAC Fellowship and PxROAR Africa programmes and the NHVMAS LeNNiB Champion project may be one of the many ways to address this time-limited challenge. Let’s look forward optimistically to what these networks, platforms, organisations, programmes and project is set to do for HIV epidemic on the sub-Saharan continent.