August 25, 2006

Over the past 20 years, research and practice have shown the effectiveness of a range of biomedical, behavioral, and social interventions for preventing the transmission and acquisition of HIV. However, in order to make a difference and get these preventive strategies to the people who need them, there is a crucial need to scale-up and intensify their use in the communities and continue to develop prevention strategies for different vulnerable groups such as women.

Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, a professor and the Director of the Social Intervention Group (SIG) at the Columbia University School of Social Work, have been focusing on the science of behavioral intervention for vulnerable populations in the U.S. and abroad. At the 16th International AIDS Conference recently held in Canada, Dr. El-Bassel presented models of gender-specific prevention interventions for drug-involved women and couples that address the complex factors that put them at risk. The presentation highlighted the urgent need to scale up and intensify prevention research for drug-involved women, and also the urgency to deliver effective gender specific prevention interventions for drug involved women now.

“Despite availability of treatment, prevention remains critical to avert millions of new infections globally,” says Dr. El-Bassel. “Given the absence of a cure, and insufficient resources to ensure widespread treatment for all of those who are infected, the global communities need prevention strategies that work.”

The 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic shows that an estimated 38.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV at the end of 2005. An estimated 4.1 million became newly infected with HIV and an estimated 2.8 million lost their lives to AIDS. While infection incidence rates that peaked in the late 1990s have subsequently stabilized, there are still countries in which the incidence is increasing. Almost half of the HIV-positive world are women, but in Africa young women are three times more likely to be HIV-positive than young men. Gender inequalities leave women with less control than men over their bodies and lives.

In support of access to prevention and treatment technologies, the Gates Foundation announced that they will fund a great deal of research into the development of microbicides to scale-up the research process. Such prevention technologies for women are now under investigation in clinical trials and will hopefully be out in several years. Other female controlled technologies that are being tested include a new formulation of the female condom and use of diaphragms.

“Women remain vulnerable to HIV globally. While there have been scientific advances in prevention and treatment, there is a critical need to scale up and intensify access to these advances now, especially in developing countries,” said Dr. El Bassel. “There have been great advances in AIDS prevention, treatment and research over the years, but the message of the conference is clear — there is no time to wait to deliver prevention, care and treatment to all who need them.”

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