Mapping Pathways is a multi-national project to develop and nurture a research-driven, community-led global understanding of the emerging evidence base around the adoption of antiretroviral-based prevention strategies to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The evidence base is more than results from clinical trials - it must include stakeholder and community perspectives as well.

21 June 2012

ARM-ing Africa for Rectal Microbicides

Original content from the Mapping Pathways blog team

These are exciting times in the HIV-prevention landscape.  In an earlier Mapping Pathways post, we covered our colleague, Jim Pickett’s experiences at the Microbicides 2012 (M2012) conference in Sydney in April.  At M2012, advocates discussed a number of important issues, including the importance of adherence in clinical trials. 

A major development at M2012 was a report released by the International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA), a global network that Jim leads, as a cornerstone of their Project ARM (Africa for Rectal Microbicides). The report, titled “On the Map: Ensuring Africa’s place in Rectal Microbicide Research and Advocacy” outlines priority actions to ensure Africa is involved in rectal microbicide research and advocacy activities.

On The Map is the result of a two-day consultation that took place before the ICASA conference in Addis Ababa in December with African and international stakeholders. Says Pickett, “The central question of the consultation was ‘How can we be more strategic and proactive to make sure Africa is on the map when it comes to rectal microbicide research and advocacy?’”

The Project ARM report lays out seven key action areas specific to rectal microbicide research and advocacy in the African context:
Knowledge, Attitudes and Behaviors (KAB) studies on anal health and anal sex to generate data that can be analyzed across countries and populations
Rectal microbicide acceptability studies
Mapping of sex education curricula to determine what content on anal health is included
Advocacy for lubricant access through the “And Lube” campaign of the Global Lube Advocacy Mobilisation (GLAM)
Documentation of best practices for integrating anal health, anal intercourse and rectal microbicides into sexual health and HIV prevention education
Capacity-building activities for community leaders, advocates, and researchers
Awareness raising and education about anal health, anal intercourse, and rectal microbicides, including development of educational materials and other communications efforts specific to the African context

According to Pickett, members of the Project ARM working group further prioritized the key activities. While the members agreed that all the activities are important, the top three are the KAB studies, awareness raising and education on anal health and anal intercourse, and improving access to condom-compatible lubricants, which are in very short supply across most of Africa.

Pickett explained that the HIV epidemic in Africa is often wrongly considered as solely heterosexual, with sexual transmission driven entirely by unprotected vaginal sex between men and women. “There has been little to no official recognition of the fact that there are gay men and other men who have sex with men in Africa who are enduring high rates of HIV, and that plenty of heterosexuals also have anal sex. Unprotected anal intercourse is 10 to 20 times more likely to result in an HIV infection compared to unprotected vaginal intercourse,” says Pickett.

As mentioned, increasing access to condom-compatible lubricant is a key goal of Project ARM. Access to appropriate lubricants on the continent is quite abysmal. “In the absence of appropriate, safe lubricants, people use things like shampoo, cooking oil, hand lotion, antibiotic creams – even motor oil – that break down the latex in the condom, erasing the protective benefits.. People also use saliva, which dries out quickly – and can cause tears in the condom as well as harm the fragile rectal environment. For safer anal sex, lubrication that is condom-compatible is absolutely necessary,” says Pickett.

 “There is an immediate need for appropriate lubricants for people who have anal intercourse in Africa. If we can’t get lubricant to people now, how will we be able to deliver rectal microbicides to them when they become available? Increasing access to appropriate lube is absolutely critical, and paves the way for access to rectal microbicides down the line. We can’t have campaigns and programs that deliver condoms without also delivering condom-compatible lubes. Period.”

Stay tuned to the blog as we bring you more information on this exciting project. Until then, read a vivid snapshot of advocacy in Africa through the eyes of Brian Kanyemba here. Brian has been very involved with IRMA's Project ARM, and is an integral member of the Project ARM video working group, which is trying to produce an African-focused video on anal health and anal intercourse.

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