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Our research on HIV ensures that we will “leave no one behind”

By Lester Kapanda, Cohort Five Fellow

I was one of nearly 30, 000 participants who attended the International AIDS Conference of 2018 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands that ran from July 23 to 27, 2018. It is one of the largest conferences on global health issues and dates back to 1985 a time considered the peak of the AIDS epidemic. To date it continues to provide a unique forum for the intersection of science, advocacy, and human rights.

At this year’s conference I presented, on behalf of my team in the College of Medicine at the University of Medicine, the research findings which focused on sexual practices among men who have sex with men being one the key affected populations in HIV prevention.

The title of our presentation was Prevalence and correlates of group sex participation alongside other risky sexual practices among men who have sex with men in Malawi. These findings are from a bigger project work on improving access to sexual health care in relation to HIV prevention, treatment and other related support targeting men who have sex with men (MSM) being one of the key affected populations.

Professor Adamson S. Muula is the principal investigator and my PhD primary supervisor.

It was a very great experience learning from presentations from different parts of the world. This conference lays ground for opportunities to strengthen policies and programmes that ensure an effective response to the HIV epidemic. But it also provides an opportunity to accelerate efforts to eliminate AIDS and amplify the impact of investments in HIV. To date, HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence but a manageable disease, I attribute this to the knowledge sharing and networking that take place during such meetings.

One key area discussed throughout the conference was about HIV response that “should not leave anyone behind.” This is because, much as positive strides continue to be registered in the general population HIV prevention, HIV prevalence remains high among key affected populations, up to 47%. Key populations (KPs) are at higher risk of HIV as they are most likely to be exposed or to transmit it.  Among them are sex workers, transwomen, people who inject drugs, adolescents, prisoners and men who have sex with men.

It was stressed during the conference that reaching out to key populations and promoting health equity should be a priority to maximise HIV prevention. I was particularly amazed by the leadership in Netherlands that is intentional in promoting human rights, reaching out to key populations and promoting health equity. Malawi too supports KPs HIV prevention as highlighted in the HIV and AIDS Policy as well as in the HIV Prevention Strategy covering period 2015 – 2020.

There were over thirty people from Malawi who attended the conference including the minister of health, the secretary for health and other officials from CDC, Pepfar, USAID, Light House Trust, non-governmental organisations, human rights activists, media from the Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation and KP representatives.

I also met fellow CARTA fellows such as Nomathemba Chandiwana (Cohort Five), Henry Zakumumpa and Admire Chikandiwa (Both of Cohort Four). I also met other well-known health researchers very interested to collaborate with us in this research area for instance Professor Taha Taha from Johns Hoskins University and Professor Theodorus Sandfort from Columbia University.

I was financially supported by International AIDS Society (IAS), CARTA and Africa Centre of Excellence in Public Health and Herbal Medicine (ACEPHEM) funded by ACEII Project of the Malawi Government. I would like to thank the University of Malawi, College of Medicine in particular the School of Public Health and Family Medicine in the department of Public Health for their continuous support in my doctoral journey. Many thanks to Professor Adamson S. Muula, Professor Chimaraoke Izugbara, my supervisors for their tremendous work in mentoring me and shaping my presentation. Many thanks to Dr. Vincent Jumbe one of the co-authors and lecturer in the department of Health Systems and Policy, we travelled together.

The fellow is doctoral student at the University of Malawi.

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