Advocates for Women Talk About CROI 2015

Maria Mejia and Kate Borloglou, both from The Well Project, joined our own Julie "JD" Davids on a webinar to share perspectives on the 22nd Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI 2015) in Seattle, Washington.

Co-sponsored by The Well Project, Positive Women's Network-USA and TheBody.com/TheBodyPRO.com, the webinar was an opportunity to draw attention to data of interest to women with HIV, their care providers and those interested in HIV prevention for women.

First-time CROI attendee Maria Mejia, who is living with HIV, stressed the importance of including women in research on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). She noted that most studies presented on this topic had been conducted only in men who have sex with men (MSM). Prior to the conference she herself had been unsure about the benefits of PrEP for women, but these studies convinced her that such an approach to HIV prevention would be helpful for sex workers, survivors of sexual abuse and others. She urged the community of HIV-positive women to pressure researchers for the inclusion of more women in prevention trials.

Mejia was also excited about the prospect of long-acting injectable antiretroviral medications, which she pronounced a great step forward for HIV-positive people. She regretted what she felt was the paucity of research on an HIV cure that was presented at CROI, but noted that "being undetectable is [also] a form of cure."

Kate Borloglou, who is also living with HIV, praised the community scholar breakfast sessions discussing the prior day's presentations for helping to explain the technical nature of some sessions. She highlighted presentations about two failed studies, HPTN 065 and FACTS 001, noting, "Part of learning is finding out what works and what doesn't." HPTN 065 found that financial incentives did not increase linkage to care or the likelihood of viral suppression, while FACTS 001 established that a vaginal tenofovir (Viread) gel was not effective in preventing HIV due to low adherence among trial participants.

JD Davids attended CROI as a representative of the community media. She noted that the HIV community had to literally force its way into CROI during the early days of the conference, and emphasized the importance of being able to talk directly with the researchers who conduct the studies. She decried the lack of data on transgender women, proposing an entire session on that topic at a future conference.

Davids urged the HIV community to demand more affordable medication regimens that are easy to use in order to improve adherence. One successful study on this topic was BREATHER, where young HIV-positive people took efavirenz (Sustiva, Stocrin)-based antiretroviral combinations for five days a week, followed by two (usually weekend) days off, with no rebound in viral load.

She noted that the U.S. Women and PrEP Working Group met before the start of the conference to discuss the goal of organizing advocacy about women at the next big international AIDS conference, AIDS 2016, which will be held in Durban, South Africa.