By: Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate
Are the sexual rights of women with HIV ignored?
In a paper titled “The Problematization of Sexuality among Women Living with HIV and a New Feminist Approach for Understanding and Enhancing Women’s Sexual Lives,” SFU PhD candidate Allison Carter explores how social and cultural factors are undermining the well-being and rights of women living with HIV.
Carter, who works at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, was part of a team that looked at 32 studies involving 11,552 women living with HIV in 25 countries from 1997 to 2017. The team found that many women with HIV experience stigma, violence, poverty, and depression, which in turn negatively affects their sexual health and well-being.
The results point to social oppression as the main contributor to women’s challenges around sex and HIV. Such difficulties often go unreported as most HIV research deals with preventing the spread of HIV.
According to SFU associate professor Angela Kaida, the study “. . . highlights the need to completely reframe our approach to sexual health and pay greater attention to positive and rewarding [sexual] experiences such as satisfaction and pleasure, and the social environments necessary to support this.”
As a step towards the destigmatization of HIV, the researchers support decriminalization of HIV non-disclosure and a radical restructuring of the culture. Study co-author Jessica Whitbread stated, “A safe and satisfying sexual life — however women themselves want to define ‘satisfying’ — is a human right.”
SFU professor moves closer to creating HIV vaccine
Researchers are closer to developing an HIV vaccine using molecules that develop antibodies. These antibodies, as part of the body’s natural immune response, protect the body from infection by attacking the viruses.
Associate professor Ralph Pantophlet from SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, along with researchers from Austria and the USA, has published a paper in Nature Communications that explains how the immune system can be “tricked” into creating antibodies that target HIV viruses.
Pantophlet says that the team found “a molecule that is similar to one found on HIV.” During animal tests, the molecule helped “generate antibodies able to target the virus.” It is believed that similar techniques could be applied to develop new treatments for other viruses and cancers.
Pantophlet, whose laboratory investigates antibody responses to HIV viruses in host-virus interactions and anti-viral antibody responses, says the research needs further study before it can be tested on humans but is an important first step on the route to an HIV vaccine.