Microbicide advocates share lessons learned from the field

October 22, 2008 by PATH

PATH-sponsored Conversations in Global Health series highlights challenges, recommendations

Global Campaign for Microbicides staff share their experiences (from left to right) Samu Dube, Deborah Baron, Anna Forbes, and Marc-André LeBlanc. They are joined by PATH advocacy director, Rachel Wilson (second from right). Photo: Global Campaign for Microbicides/Mialy Clark.

Nearly 30 professionals interested or engaged in advocacy for microbicide research and development joined an expert panel at the PATH office in Washington, DC, on October 10, 2008. The breakfast event was the second in the Conversations in Global Health series—a forum for global health professionals to discuss timely issues and challenges.

Focusing on advocacy for microbicides research and development, the conversation featured four Global Campaign for Microbicides staff with experience organizing and advocating for microbicides in Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe, and the United States. The Global Campaign for Microbicides secretariat is housed at PATH and is a leader in the field of microbicides. Speakers shared their unique perspectives on in-country advocacy organizing and discussed the differences and similarities inherent in advocacy on the global scale.

Microbicides’ unique challenges

Microbicides offer exciting possibilities for stemming the spread of sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, and would give women, in particular, more control over their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Promoting microbicide research and development is challenging because an effective microbicide has not yet been found, explained Anna Forbes, deputy director of the Global Campaign for Microbicides. After several product trials—including the cellulose sulphate (CS) trial—were closed in 2007, advocacy for further research and development now must include coordinated, clear, and up-to-date information and must contextualize the challenges facing all new drug development. Understanding that developing a microbicide is a long and many-tiered process is crucial to successful advocacy.

Communication key to advocacy

Advocates must relay information about product development, clinical trials, and the importance of continued microbicide research both clearly and quickly, said Deborah Baron, coordinator of the Microbicides Media and Communications Initiative. Baron spoke about her experience coordinating communication efforts in Johannesburg, South Africa, an area where several microbicides trials are being conducted.

Using her experience during the CS trial closure, Baron explained that advocates should focus on giving policymakers and the public realistic, accurate, and consistent messages about product development. Baron emphasized establishing clear channels of communication between trial participants and researchers and involving the community in clinical trials.

Microbicide advocacy in the global north and south

The Global Campaign for Microbicides’ network of advocates is active around the world. Marc-André LeBlanc, the campaign’s global north programs coordinator, shared experiences advocating in Europe, Canada, and the United States. Dr. Samukeliso Dube, the campaign’s Africa program leader, spoke about in-country advocacy in South Africa. In addition, Dr. Dube addressed the historical political landscape in South Africa, as well as the rapid and exciting political change that is currently occurring. The panelists emphasized the importance of coordination between advocacy actors on all levels.

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