amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfAR Capitol Hill Briefing Explores New HIV Prevention Technologies, Underscores Importance of Adequate Funding and Targeting High-Risk Groups

Experts: All prevention tools in our arsenal must be used to reduce HIV infections and accelerate an HIV prevention revolution



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Cub Barrett, Program Communications Manager
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NEW YORK, March 14, 2011—More than a dozen leading government, research, policy, and medical experts on Wednesday highlighted the need to scale up HIV prevention efforts, both domestically and globally, as an effective way to combat the worldwide AIDS epidemic at a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research.

Citing major  advances during the past year in pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and microbicide trials, strides in vaccine research, the use of social media, and  treatment as a means of preventing viral transmission, the  speakers—including high-level representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), UNAIDS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the San Francisco Department of Public Health—stressed that, 30 years into the epidemic, the world finds itself in a new era of prevention.

“Ten years ago, the only real HIV prevention tool we had was the condom,” said Dr. Paul DeLay, M.D., deputy executive director of UNAIDS. “So much has changed since then.”

The main challenge, many of the speakers said, is to determine the best ways to fund and implement the usage of these new prevention technologies, and how to effectively integrate them into the lives of the most vulnerable populations, especially men who have sex with men (MSM), young women of color, and injecting drug users (IDUs). Too often, several panelists said, prevention campaigns do not effectively target populations most in need of messages about HIV/AIDS.

amfAR Senior Medical and Policy Advisor Susan Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.A., who moderated the briefing, said in her opening remarks, “America's health is global health, and global health is America's health. In an interconnected world, we must combine scientific advances with public health approaches, sharing best practices to scale up interventions that work … Prevention must be at the forefront of every nation’s health care agenda,” she said, because for every person receiving treatment, three others will be newly infected with the virus. Many of the speakers touched on the global application of new HIV prevention techniques, and underscored the importance of further study and funding for these initiatives.

“Biological advances alone will not end the epidemic,” said Dr. Robert H. Remien, Ph.D., research scientist at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies at the New York Psychiatric Institute and a professor of Clinical Psychology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University. “We must also focus on behavioral science interventions.”

Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D., director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, echoed Remien’s comments, adding that many proven prevention tools, including condoms, only work properly when people can integrate them into their daily lives and use them consistently. “We are in an era of prevention and behavioral integration,” Dieffenbach said.

Several speakers at the briefing, titled “Accelerating an HIV Prevention Revolution: A Roadmap,” are working on innovative ways to promote that kind of behavioral integration by targeting at-risk populations. Dr. Grant Colfax, M.D., director of HIV prevention and research for the San Francisco Department of Health, is pioneering studies on community viral load—linked to a higher risk of HIV infection for people living within a particular region—to determine where prevention resources need to go in his home city. “Understanding community viral load is essential to an effective HIV response,” said Colfax, who showed the 130 Hill staffers, policymakers, and researchers in the audience several different ways of mapping the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. By understanding community viral load, Colfax said, he can channel prevention and treatment resources more proactively and cost-effectively.

Another potential model for future HIV prevention efforts is to use social media, including text messaging, said Paul Meyer, J.D., chairman and president of Voxiva, Inc.  He spoke about Text4baby, an initiative he designed with Dr. Blumenthal’s input. Text4baby is a free SMS information service for pregnant women and new moms that sends texts to women who sign up for the service based on delivery dates and neo- and post-natal milestones. Meyer said that a similar system focusing on HIV prevention and treatment could be established and marketed toward those most at risk for HIV infection in the United States and worldwide.

Dr. John T. McDevitt, Ph.D., Brown-Weiss Professor of Bioengineering and Chemistry at Rice University, underscored that notion: “When we learn something important, we have a responsibility to use it to help the most affected communities,” he said. “We owe it to everyone.” McDevitt has developed point-of-care bio-nano chip technology for monitoring HIV infection in the developing world.

Chris Collins, amfAR’s vice president and director of public policy, concluded the session by underscoring amfAR’s commitment to addressing prevention by advocating evidenced-based policies and greater investments in research.

Related resources:

View the agenda from the briefing

See a full list of the briefing’s panelists

Read the amfAR issue brief released at the meeting and titled Accelerating an HIV Prevention Revolution: A Roadmap, which details the full range of current and potential prevention strategies and offers policy recommendations for moving the field forward

About amfAR
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly $325 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.