Synergies, tensions and challenges in HIV prevention, treatment and cure research : exploratory conversations with HIV experts in South Africa

Moodley, Keymanthri ; Rossouw, Theresa ; Staunton, Ciara ; Colvin, Christopher J. (2016-04-30)

CITATION: Moodley, K., et al. 2016. Synergies, tensions and challenges in HIV prevention, treatment and cure research : exploratory conversations with HIV experts in South Africa. BMC Medical Ethics, 17(1): 26, doi: 10.1186/s12910-016-0109-1.

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Background: The ethical concerns associated with HIV prevention and treatment research have been widely explored in South Africa over the past 3 decades. However, HIV cure research is relatively new to the region and significant ethical and social challenges are anticipated. There has been no published empirical enquiry in Africa into key informant perspectives on HIV cure research. Consequently, this study was conducted to gain preliminary data from South African HIV clinicians, researchers and activists. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted on a purposive sample of fourteen key informants in South Africa. Audiotaped interviews were transcribed verbatim with concurrent thematic analysis. The perspectives of HIV clinicians, researchers and activists were captured. Analyst triangulation occurred as the data were analysed by three authors independently. Results: The rapid evolution of HIV cure research agendas was prominent with participants expressing some concern that the global North was driving the cure agenda. Participants described a symbiotic relationship between cure, treatment and prevention research necessitating collaboration. Assessing and managing knowledge and expectations around HIV cure research emerged as a central theme related to challenges to constructing ‘cure’ - how patients understand the idea of cure is important in explaining the complexity of cure research especially in the South African context where understanding of science is often challenging. Managing expectations and avoiding curative misconception will have implications for consent processes. Unique strategies in cure research could include treatment interruption, which has the potential to create therapeutic and ethical conflict and will be perceived as a significant risk. Ethical challenges in cure research will impact on informed consent and community engagement. Conclusions: It was encouraging to note the desire for synergy amongst researchers and clinicians working in the fields of prevention, treatment and cure. Translation of complex HIV cure science into lay language is critical. Moving forward, RECs must be adequately constituted with scientific expertise and community representation when reviewing cure protocols. It is hoped that knowledge and resource sharing in the context of collaboration between research scientists working in cure and those working in treatment and prevention will accelerate progress towards cure.

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