Time for action, say HIV science roundtable participants

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Time for action, say HIV science roundtable participants

03 October 2011

Participants at the roundtable entitled "Closing the gap between science and implementation: Accelerating science to get to South Africa’s vision of zero new HIV infections". South Africa, 30 September 2011.

“The time has come for action,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, the Director of The Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research (CAPRISA), at the end of a roundtable discussion held to explore ways of accelerating the time it takes to put new scientific research into action. 

The roundtable was entitled Closing the gap between science and implementation: Accelerating science to get to South Africa’s vision of zero new HIV infections, and looked at ways of maximizing the opportunities created by scientific research around HIV prevention in the past year to reach the country’s target of halving new HIV infections by 2015.

The Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé, who was on a seven-day visit to South Africa, engaged in the discussions which were held at CAPRISA’s Centre of Excellence at the University of Kwazulu Natal. He said, “In the last year science has given us the tools to reach our goals, the challenge now is how to apply them.”

Discussions focused on the recent groundbreaking scientific results which have provided the evidence needed to move forwards with a new range of HIV prevention technologies––microbicides, medical male circumcision and treatment for prevention. However participants were concerned that it is taking too long to get these lifesaving interventions to the people that need them most. 

One of the main challenges discussed was the lack of funding for implementation. “Research into microbicides or vaccines attracts big funding,” said one of the participants. “But donors are not as quick to fund the translation of science into implementation.”

“We cannot afford to wait – bold leadership is needed to turn the epidemic around”, said Professor Abdool-Karim. “In the face of cost, it is more costly to do nothing”, he added.

In the last year science has given us the tools to reach our goals, the challenge now is how to apply them

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé

In addition to the new prevention technologies, participants agreed that HIV counselling and testing remain critical to a robust HIV prevention response. They also underlined that high burden countries need to be prioritised and that policymakers and implementers do not use a one-size-fits-all approach to HIV prevention, but rather tailor local responses to local contexts.

A wide range of stakeholders were brought together to engage in the debate including scientific researchers, government, civil society, and the private sector.

Professor Quarrisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA, described the meeting as “electric”, adding that, “For the first time a diverse group of people have come together to discuss this issue. It is a complex issue with no easy answers but it is the start of positive discussions around our common goal, which is to wipe out new HIV infections.”