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Significant progress has been identified in the AIDS response but women and girls are still disproportionately affected by the epidemic.
According to UNAIDS, globally nearly 2,400 women are infected with HIV every day, and despite the existence of antiretroviral drugs and contraception young women are particularly vulnerable to HIV and unwanted pregnancies.
A side event at the United Nations 70th General Assembly organised by the International Partnership for Microbicides, attended by representatives of pharmaceutical organisations, researchers and civil society organisations, looked to address these issues.
The discussion started with an acknowledgement that better products are needed, which can significantly improve the sexual and reproductive health of women.
Panelist Zeda Rosenberg, from the International Partnership for the Microbicides (IPM), revealed that her organisation is working on developing vaginal rings, which deliver the antiretroviral drug dapivirine to help prevent HIV infection in women.
IPM is also developing multipurpose vaginal rings to protect against HIV infection as well as to act as a contraceptive to address women's family planning needs.
She said: “There is a need to come up with products that are needed and not to ask populations to adapt to our products. Innovation for women and girls is urgently needed otherwise the infection rates will be high as always.”
Acknowledging that women, especially young women, are disproportionally affected by HIV, panelist Katya Iversen, the chief executive officer of Women Deliver, said: “Adolescent girls are the new face of HIV. We need to look at a new way to do things.”
Innovative service delivery
In addition to developing innovative products, the need to deliver services in more innovative ways was raised.
Jaak Peeters, global head of Johnson & Johnson Global Public Health, called for cross-sectoral collaboration.
He said: “How can innovation go without a link to communities and an understanding of their health needs? We need to embed innovation in comprehensive solutions. For greater impact, we need integrated solutions. It’s not enough to have new products if we get stuck in delivery.”
Panelist Georgina Caswell, regional technical advisor at the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, said: “If a young person is not comfortable going to a health service, it does not matter what you will offer, she or he will not go…The best way to reach people is for peers to engage peers.”
Speaking from her experience of working with young people through the Link Up programme, which is working to improve the sexual and reproductive health and rights of more than one million young people in Bangladesh, Burundi, Ethiopia, Myanmar and Uganda, Caswell highlighted the success that can be had when young people are enabled to deliver services to their peers and the advantages of using community spaces to carry out this work.
Innovation in delivering on sustainable development goals
The panelists were united in calling for innovation in achieving the goals and targets of the sustainable development goals over the next 15 years.
Panelist Katja Iversen said: “Investing in sexual and reproductive health will pay, and we should make the sustainable development goals an innovation model.”
Panelist Robin Gorna, executive director at the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health, added: “Innovation is not only technology, but ways of doing things.”