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.

25 September 2012

The social drivers of HIV: In conversation with Charles Stephens

Original content from our Mapping Pathways blog team

"There was a charge at the conference to do more, research more and advocate more because what we are looking at is quite devastating." 

In the first of this three-part series, we speak to Charles Stephens of AIDS United, a Mapping Pathways partner organisation, and get his perspectives on the recently-concluded AIDS 2012 conference in Washington D.C. and the FDA ruling on Truvada for PrEP.

MP: Please tell us a bit about what you do.

CS:  My name is Charles Stephens and I’m the Southern Regional Organiser for AIDS United. In that role, I work with our partners and grantees in the southern region of the U.S. to help build their capacity to engage in and implement advocacy work. I am very passionate about HIV prevention research and my goal is to bridge the gap that sometimes exists between communities and academia, researchers and practitioners.

I provide workshops on advocacy and help to build and sustain coalitions that might develop around an issue or campaign. I also help create tools such as factsheets, which are used by some of our grantees and partners in their advocacy efforts.

My role with AIDS United has given me the opportunity to work with the Mapping Pathways project by helping to disseminate findings and using the project as a community education tool to raise awareness about biomedical HIV prevention in general and ARV-based HIV prevention in particular. Being on the ground with various communities gives me the opportunity to draw upon the perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders to help make the case for the significance and value of ARV-based prevention, which is one of the aims of the Mapping Pathways project.

MP: How did the AIDS 2012 conference go? What were some of the conversations taking place there?

CS: AIDS 2012 was extremely exciting! It was the first time in a long time that a conference was held in the U.S. Several conversations centered on the possibility of ending AIDS as we know it is and we feel this possibility is within our grasp.

There have been a number of scientific breakthroughs, particularly in the context of biomedical HIV prevention, that have given us a lot of hope. TLC+, PrEP and other technologies and strategies were prominently discussed and debated.

There was also a lot of discussion about the catastrophic HIV rates among young black gay men and possible strategies to combat that problem. There was a charge at the conference to do more, research more and advocate more because what we are looking at is quite devastating. There was a contrast, though, between the optimism of envisioning an AIDS-free generation and at the same time looking at the dismal HIV rates among young black gay men. Overall though, I get the sense that many of us left empowered and energised.

MP: What is your opinion on the recent FDA ruling on Truvada for PrEP?

CS: The FDA approval of Truvada for PrEP was another exciting development that lent an air of positivity to the conference. The FDA approval gives us more opportunities to engage in research and demonstration around PrEP and answer key questions.

We have to understand better how PrEP will work in real-world settings. There are a number of questions that a lot of communities and researchers have around PrEP and I think that the FDA approval will allow us to look for the answers to those questions

From an advocacy perspective we are at a unique time. However, we still have to work out accessibility issues and think about how people and communities, particularly vulnerable communities, can afford the drug. Advocates are also having conversations about the Affordable Care Act and other health-care reform.

MP: Is there anything else coming up in the near future that excites you?

CS: I’m looking forward to The National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day that is coming up on September 27. The U.S. celebrates a number of National HIV/AIDS Awareness days through the year. These provide opportunities to raise awareness and also help de-stigmatise HIV by acknowledging the impact HIV has on certain communities and commemorating unsung heroes in the movement.

The impact of HIV and AIDS on my community motivates me to go out everyday and do all that I can to change the direction things are going in. I’m also thrilled at having the opportunity to work with a number of very talented, skilled and committed individuals. Watching their work inspires me and I think their stories need to be told.

Stay tuned to the blog as we bring you part two and three of our conversation with Charles, where he speaks about some of the social drivers of HIV and the disproportionate impact of HIV on some communities.

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