AS WE BEGAN A NEW DECADE JUST SIX MONTHS AGO, no one could have imagined the upheaval the world is facing today. The coronavirus is a formidable public health threat that has interrupted day-to-day life throughout the world, curtailed progress in clinical trials and the pace of our work in the HPTN. Fear of contagion and questioning our every movement, weighing risks and benefits of every interaction and every destination in an effort to protect ourselves and each other from an unseen, dangerous virus has derailed our way of life in most places.
Recent events have been a vivid and painful reminder of the crushing burden Black people suffer because of social and health disparities. This reminder was displayed through the over representation of illness and deaths from the coronavirus weighing heavily on Black people, particularly in the U.S. The social and economic impact of the coronavirus, it seems, will be felt greatest by Black people and Africans generally in the diaspora. Loss of jobs, savings, housing and other fundamental economic repercussions continue to affect Africans in the diaspora. As if the advent of the coronavirus was not enough, another reminder of the plight faced by Black people re-emerged with a sequence of brutal attacks too ferocious and repugnant to be ignored or minimized. Effectively, demonstrations have been organized and are building throughout the world condemning the scourge of racism and demanding justice. It is within this context the CWG functions right now, yet we continue to engage communities and support the research endeavour for HIV prevention.
As if the advent of the coronavirus was not enough, another reminder of the plight faced by Black people re-emerged with a sequence of brutal attacks too ferocious and repugnant to be ignored or minimized
It is with a sense of pride to recognize that the HPTN Community Working Group has proactively forged ahead and kept the Network agenda alive. At times carrying out functions, utilizing site back-up plans, contingency plans, emergency plans and/or disaster plans in order to protect study volunteers and ensure integrity of research studies throughout the coronavirus outbreak. With high level agility and adaptability, CWG members have supported study volunteers through unforeseen emergencies, managed crisis and contributed to the finding of efficacy of a new HIV prevention tool during this period. CWG members have tapped into personal and collective resiliency, creativity and fortitude to do as much as possible to mitigate disruption and execute ethically sound research with care and conscientiousness. We can only hope that CWG members have found time to take care of themselves, their loved ones, get restorative rest and find some measure of balance.
Our collective determination towards our goal as the HPTN family has in the midst of all these calamities been affirmed by the HPTN 083 DSMB review outcome. Telling us and the world that CAB LA as injectable PrEP is doing exactly what we worked hard and hoped for. It has become a needed and welcomed development that should serve as a lift of our spirits. From it, we ought to regain new determination to continue the good fight and be reminded who the actual enemy to humanity is. And still, our work remains unfinished and there are challenges ahead as the network looks to harness its strengths and experience to inform the coronavirus research agenda while sustaining the mission to reduce HIV incidence worldwide. We all know too well that systemic racism and marginalization of Black people persists and is an unacceptable and intolerable scourge on society. We state emphatically that we condemn the system of racism and discrimination in all its manifestations from microaggressions to violent brutality. We join and stand with those who seek to dismantle racism and injustice throughout the world.
When future generations ask us where we were when more than 100,000 fell to the coronavirus? We can say we were there, in the trenches, at the front lines informing, protecting and educating in the community. And when asked what we did when Black people were harassed or killed for birdwatching in the park, jogging down the road, sleeping in their own beds at night or while pinned down on the pavement, we can state firmly that were not silent. We stood with those fighting for justice, dignity and decency. We fought back with our collective humanity, our compassion to do all we could do with all that we had to build a better society.
- Melissa Turner and Ntando Yola
Melissa Turner, Chair of the HPTN Community Working Group, has been integrally involved in patient care management and HIV clinical trials in Washington, D.C. as a clinical social worker at a research site. She is also the community advisory board liaison at the George Washington University HPTN CRS and community program coordinator at the local, international and Network level.
Ntando Yola, Co-chair of the HPTN Community Working Group, is as a community liaison and education officer with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation (DTHF) in Cape Town, South Africa. He works closely with national and international HIV prevention networks and various community stakeholders, developing and implementing community education programs, and forming partnerships with health service providers and other community-based organizations.