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Funding cuts threaten HIV prevention targets

By Alick Ponje, in Madrid, Spain:

HIV prevention research funding continued to decline in 2017 for the fifth consecutive year, driven largely by a five-year low in US public sector funding, according to a report released on Thursday at the HIV Research for Prevention conference in Madrid, Spain.

The Resource Tracking for HIV Prevention R&D Working Group’s 14th annual report, Investing to End the Epidemic, documents funding that fell to the lowest level in more than a decade. In 2017, funding for HIV prevention research and development fell by 3.5 percent ($40 million) from the previous year, falling to $1.13 billion.

This declining funding comes at a time when there is more optimism for research, with a slate of efficacy trials across the prevention pipeline, including major HIV vaccine, next generation pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) efficacy trials and follow-on research for proven antiretroviral-based prevention options among others.

But it also comes a time the broader HIV field is grappling with a prevention crisis that is exacerbated by decreased funding for the overall HIV response and a lack of political will to adequately fund a response that will ensure the world meets the ambitious prevention targets to end the epidemic.

In poor countries like Malawi, despite that significant progress is being made in defeating the epidemic, it continues to be one of their major public health threats.

Various studies are taking place in Malawi to prevent continued toll of HIV whose response in the country is largely by donors.

The Working Group has warned that getting to zero new infections will not only require the expansion of existing options like voluntary medical male circumcision and PrEP but also the development of innovative new products, including long-acting, antiretroviral-based prevention options and a vaccine.

Executive Director of Aids Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (Avac), a New York-based non-profit organisation that advocates HIV prevention to end Aids, Mitchell Warren warned that “we are in a prevention crisis and we cannot afford a further funding crisis”.

“It is unacceptable that donor funding for HIV prevention research continues to fall year after year even as research is moving new options closer to reality. We need continued and sustained investment to keep HIV prevention research on track to provide the additional tools that are required for sustainable, durable control of the HIV epidemic,” Warren said.

The US government continued to be the major funder of HIV prevention research, contributing almost three-fourths of overall funding.

A decrease of almost six percent, though, brought funding to a five-year low of $830 million. The report says that, with uncertainty around continued political will to fund the HIV response, the trend is worrying.

Noting increases in public sector funding from Canada, Brazil and the Netherlands, the Working Group called on other European countries to increase investment in critical HIV prevention tools to help end the epidemic.

A true end to Aids will only be possible if we can develop and deploy an effective, accessible HIV vaccine and other biomedical innovations to prevent HIV infection,” President of the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) Mark Feinberg said.

He added: “Decades of research are paying off with the most exciting advances we’ve seen to date. But progress can only continue with sustained public and private sector investment in HIV prevention R&D.”

Avac leads the secretariat of the Working Group that also includes IAVI and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids.

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