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Friday, January 13, 2012

EngenderHealth on the Move

International conferences are always on our agenda. But this winter has been particularly busy so far, with staff attending the International Conference on Family Planning in Dakar, Senegal, and the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections in Africa (ICASA) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Since our field staff cannot pack you in their suitcases and take you with them—they’re just not that strong!—we asked them to tell you a little about their experiences now that they are back home. 


2011 International Conference on Family Planning, Dakar: JAWEER BROWN (Technical Advisor, Family Planning)

What were some of your favorite moments from the conference, and why?

One of my personal highlights from the conference was a presentation by a young activist living with HIV. He really moved me and set the stage for my experience in Dakar. Against the backdrop of a large tent and competing with the rumblings of an enthusiastic audience, the activist reminded us of the human face behind the words family planning, HIV, systems strengthening, development, and all the jargon we use in our work. He represented the lives of so many we refer to as “client,” ”population,” or ”user.” With a palpable candor and passion, he pressed us to adhere to our commitments to make real change and embodied the purpose of our work: to meet the urgent sexual and reproductive health needs of young people like him.

Were there any takeaways from discussions surrounding the issue of HIV risk and hormonal injections?

Going into the conference, we knew the facts surrounding this important issue. An important takeaway that emerged on this topic, however, is the fact that we may never have conclusive evidence about a link between hormonal contraceptives and HIV risk. Strong leadership, therefore, is vital for proceeding within this uncertainty. This will involve investing more resources and attention to expand the contraceptive choices available to women and increase access to a wide method mix, including long-acting and permanent methods of family planning.

What other research highlights received special attention from conference participants?

I am a tech geek in disguise, and I really enjoyed a presentation on new contraceptive technologies. Two innovations in particular caught my eye: the microbicide/hormonal contraceptive ring, and the development of a topical gel contraceptive. 

What were some major contributions EngenderHealth made at the conference?

EngenderHealth contributed a great deal to the Implementing Best Practices (IBP) sessions, which were another major highlight of my experience in Dakar. The format of these sessions was unique.  Rather than Powerpoint presentations followed by a question-and-answer period, the sessions were broken up into roundtables, allowing for open dialogue in small groups of 8–10 people. It was a rare opportunity to sit down with colleagues and experts from around the world and take a bird’s eye view at what we do and how we do it.

2011 International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa, Addis Ababa: MARK BARONE (Senior Medical Associate)

What were some of your favorite moments from the conference, and why?

A favorite moment from the conference was a presentation that my colleague Dr. Quentin Awori delivered on our randomized controlled trial of the Shang Ring versus conventional male circumcision in Kenya and Zambia. Dr. Awori works in Homa Bay, Kenya, and is a co-investigator on the study. He is an up-and-coming young researcher, which made it even more gratifying to see our work presented by him. The presentation generated a lot of discussion and offered great hope that a device will simplify male circumcision and allow for more rapid scale-up.

I also particularly enjoyed the opportunity that the conference presented to connect with many of the people that I know who are working in the field of HIV and to meet new people. Conferences like this provide a venue to learn not only from the actual conference sessions, but also to talk with others and get a better sense of what is going on more broadly in the field  and to create opportunities for future collaborations.

What other research highlights received special attention from conference participants?

Voluntary medical male circumcision received a great deal of attention during ICASA, including a number of special sessions and many oral and poster presentations. I hope that emphasis on this proven HIV prevention intervention will spur along some of the programs in Sub-Saharan Africa that have been lagging a bit.

What work did EngenderHealth present, and how did it fit into the overall conference narrative and themes?

EngenderHealth was well represented at the conference, with oral and poster presentations that highlighted our work in voluntary medical male circumcision for HIV prevention, gender, and our work with most-at-risk populations (MARPs). We also had a booth in the exhibition area highlighting our HIV-related work, with a special focus on our work with MARPs in Ethiopia.

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