World AIDS day

The International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH) at Ghent University would like to take a moment to show our support for all those currently living with HIV infection and remember those who lost their lives due to AIDS or AIDS-related illness.

We acknowledge that there have been numerous scientific advances in HIV prevention and treatment, but that there is still room to improve diagnosis, delivery, and access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), as well as understand underlying dynamics of how infection occurs and the best way to prevent transmission of HIV. To this end, ICRH researchers are currently involved in a number of ongoing projects that try to address these outstanding concerns.

The research of ICRH Professor Kristien Michielsen focuses on factors that contribute to the higher mortality among HIV-positive youth and adolescents.  Globally, over 5 million young people aged 15–24 are living with HIV. Between 2005 and 2012, the global number of HIV-related deaths fell by 30%. However, among adolescents these deaths increased by 50%.  This might be related to factors such as the lack of awareness of sero-status, poor linkages between testing and treatment services, difficulties in retention in care and lack of adherence to ART regimes.

One specific project that ICRH-Kenya is involved in, started in 2014 and aims to improve ART adherence among HIV-positive adolescents and young people through the development and implementation of an online peer support platform.

Researcher Yves Lafort is involved in a project that aims to develop and test intervention packages to improve access to HIV- and sexual and reproductive health services for female sex workers in 4 cities of the Global South: Mombasa, Kenya; Tete, Mozambique; Durban, South Africa; and Mysore, India (http://differproject.eu). Concurrently, ICRH is also researching the feasibility of venue-based HIV prevention activities for female and male sex workers and their clients in Mombasa, Kenya.

ICRH also studies the interactions between the dynamics of sexual networks and epidemic trajectories. Professor Wim Delva and Researcher Roxanne Beauclair are part of the Simpact team, an ambitious research consortium that aims to contribute to data-driven HIV prevention and treatment policies and practices by developing and applying novel epidemiological modelling tools (http://www.simpact.org). The Simpact initiative lives at the intersection of computer science, biostatistics, epidemiology and global health. The Simpact modelling platform makes it possible to explore hypotheses around various facilitating and hampering factors of real-life HIV epidemics in “virtual worlds”, thereby aiding the interpretation of observed epidemiological patterns and guiding the design of HIV prevention and treatment interventions. Their research not only employs modelling techniques, but also makes use of observational studies to investigate how individual-level sexual behaviours, such as forming age-disparate relationships and having multiple concurrent partnerships, affect HIV transmission.

Even though World AIDS Day happens only once a year, all year-round ICRH is dedicated to finding ways to prevent transmission and improve the quality of life for those living with HIV. It is our World AIDS Day aspiration for the public to continue creating awareness about HIV/AIDS-related issues throughout the year and become an advocate for those who suffer from this illness. Finally, we are extending an invitation for researchers and policy makers to reach out to us if you are interested in the work we do and want to collaborate or support our work in the future.