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Listen To Women’s Needs When Designing HIV Prevention Strategies

According to “results from a large HIV prevention trial among African women” known as VOICE and released last week, “none of the prevention methods tested in the study made a difference in HIV infection rates, because few women actually used them as directed,” AVAC Executive Director Mitchell Warren writes in an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post’s “Global Motherhood” blog. “The women in the trial are telling us something that is true for every group at risk for HIV: to help more people avoid infection, we need to offer prevention tools they will actually want, demand and use,” he states. “After years of exciting news on the biomedical prevention front, the VOICE results underscore that it is time to get serious about the behavioral side of new HIV prevention options,” Warren writes.

“First, it means figuring out how to identify those who are most likely to use and benefit from [pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)] and other emerging options,” he states, adding, “Second, we need to redouble research into additional options that women can control, want and use,” such as vaginal rings or injections. “In addition, research and development resources are urgently needed for combined contraceptive and HIV prevention methods, which would address many women’s needs more comprehensively,” and “research to find HIV vaccines, which would overcome many of the issues around adherence, also needs an aggressive push,” he continues. Warren adds, “We need to listen to the women of VOICE and other recent studies. That means designing prevention options based on a deeper understanding of women’s reproductive and sexual health needs and desires, their perceptions of their personal risk for HIV infection, and their willingness and ability to use the products on offer” (3/8).