Richard Hayes, DSc, FMedSci, is a professor of Epidemiology and International Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in London, England. He is a statistical epidemiologist who works on the epidemiology and control of HIV and related infections. Dr. Hayes has collaborated on HIV prevention trials in many parts of Africa and has a special interest in the design and analysis of cluster-randomized trials. He is principal investigator for the HPTN 071 (PopART) study, measuring the impact of universal HIV testing and treatment in Zambia and South Africa.
How did you first get involved with the HPTN?
Between 2010 and 2012, Sarah Fidler and I had been trying to get funding to evaluate universal testing and treatment (including immediate ART for all HIV-infected adults) in Africa. It may seem hard to believe now, but at that time this was a very controversial idea and it proved difficult to persuade UK-based funders to support this ambitious project. We had almost given up when Mike Cohen phoned me to say there was a new call for proposals in the U.S. for studies to evaluate combination prevention in Africa. We decided to put in an application with our colleagues and the rest is history!
What do you find most challenging about the work you do in support of the HPTN?
HPTN 071 (PopART) is the largest HIV prevention trial ever conducted and involves a very large number of organizations and individuals, all with their different needs, priorities, roles and perspectives. Making sure everyone is on the same page with the study, and well supported so that they enjoy the work and can deliver with the highest possible quality, is obviously a challenge but one we have to meet! A strength of the study, but also a challenge, is that we have three main funders: NIH, PEPFAR and 3ie (with support from the Gates Foundation). They have all been very supportive, but we have to work hard to address their different priorities and requirements.
What do you think will change about HIV prevention over the next five years?
Well one important thing is we will find out and present the results of the HPTN 071 (PopART) study – in about two years! This will be a landmark in the history of HIV research, and whatever the results, will have important implications for future efforts to control the HIV epidemic. More generally, I hope we will see further progress in finding new tools (long-acting PrEP, potential vaccine candidates) to challenge HIV. We understand better now that it is going to be difficult to reach UNAIDS targets and bring HIV incidence down to much lower levels. We will need to harness all the tools we have in effective combination prevention programs that are delivered to scale.
What do you wish other people knew about your work?
Although I’ve worked mostly on HIV and related infections for the past 25 years, I started out working on a much wider array of health problems such as sickle cell disease in Jamaica, and malaria, schistosomiasis and childhood diarrhoea in Gambia. Also, my first job as a statistician was in a brewery, just like Student after whom the t-test was named!
What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?
My original training was in statistics and I never even studied biology at school. This makes me an “amateur” when it comes to medicine although of course I’ve worked closely with clinical colleagues over the years. Interestingly in the UK there is quite a tradition of statisticians playing a leading role in medical research but maybe not so much in the U.S.
What do you do when you aren't working?
Mostly play the violin. My two main passions in life are epidemiology and the violin and I’m not sure in which order! Even at the busiest times I try to make time for music which I think is very therapeutic, it’s a different way of thinking and being than the very analytical approach we need for our science. Performing the whole of Wagner’s Ring Cycle with a semi-professional ensemble has been a highlight over the past couple of years.