Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, Associate Scientific Director at CAPRISA, was one of 16 leading global scientists from a wide range of disciplines who delivered an address at the 8th Falling Walls Conference on November 9, 2016. The metaphorical wall that she focused on breaking was the high rates of HIV infection in young women in Africa captured in the title of her talk: “How epidemiology and prevention in young women can achieve an AIDS-free generation”. This annual conference organized by the Falling Walls Foundation since 2009, was held in Berlin on 9th November to commemorate the anniversary of the falling of the Berlin Wall on this day in 1989 and was attended by over 700 key decision-makers in science, politics, the private sector and civil society.
In her address Professor Abdool Karim emphasised that while we have much to celebrate in our scientific and programmatic responses to the epidemic through global solidarity, preventing HIV infection remains a challenge. Despite over 18 million people on treatment globally, we still continue to see 1.1 million people dying from AIDS and 2.1 million new infections translating to just over 5,500 new infections each day. More than 70% of the new infections are in sub-Saharan Africa and young women between the ages of 15-24 years of age bear a disproportionate burden of infection. The availability of oral PrEP provides for the first time a women initiated technology that is important especially for young women who are unable to negotiate safer sex practices with their male partner. Adherence has been a challenge and newer, slow release longer lasting prevention technologies including passive immunity holds promise for the future. These technologies are an important step in reducing HIV infection in young women but it will take our collective efforts and time to address the root causes of their vulnerability that underly gender-power imbalances at a societal level. While this is challenging we cannot afford not to invest in keeping young girls HIV free.
To watch Quarraisha’s 14-minute Falling Walls talk, please go to: http://falling-walls.com/videos/Quarraisha-Abdool-Karim-10667)
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