amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

amfAR Summit Shines Spotlight on HIV/AIDS in Brazil

Rowena SPamfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston (Photo by Simon Plestenjak)Brazil has long been viewed as a model in the fight against AIDS, with its early comprehensive response to the epidemic.

But recent UN statistics show that the number of HIV infections in Brazil continues to grow; in 2015, 830,000 people were living with HIV compared to 700,000 in 2010.

In a recent community education initiative, amfAR hosted an HIV research summit at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, on March 29. The conference, which drew 250 community members, medical students, healthcare professionals, and representatives from 10 São Paulo-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), was held in conjunction with the Advanced Course on HIV Pathogenesis at the university’s School of Medicine.

amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston provided an overview of amfAR’s Countdown to a Cure for AIDS initiative, which is aimed at developing the scientific basis for a cure by 2020. She also outlined amfAR’s research roadmap, which identifies the four key scientific challenges that represent the principal barriers to a cure.

Dr. Mario Stevenson, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine and a former chair of amfAR’s Scientific Advisory Committee, spoke about the latest advances in HIV cure research. Stevenson is a molecular virologist who has been working at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research for 25 years.


Above: A short clip of Dr. Rowena Johnston’s address at amfAR’s HIV research summit in São Paulo, Brazil.

Dr. Esper Kallas, an infectious disease specialist and a professor at the University of São Paulo School of Medicine, then discussed current research taking place in Brazil. Kallas has been conducting clinical trials since 1993, including the groundbreaking iPrEx study, which found that taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) could prevent HIV acquisition among men who have sex with men and transgender women.

The afternoon ended with a panel discussion that included amfAR HIV Scholar Daniel Barros from the University of São Paulo School of Medicine, whose research focuses on LGBT health, and Marcio Villard, projects coordinator for Grupo Pela Vidda in Rio de Janeiro (GPV-RJ), which was founded in 1989 by the writer Herbert Daniel and works to protect the rights of people living with HIV.

SP Summit 1
amfAR Vice President and Director of Research Dr. Rowena Johnston moderates a panel with Marcio Villard, projects coordinator for Grupo Pela Vidda in Rio de Janeiro (GPV-RJ), and amfAR HIV Scholar Daniel Barros from the University of São Paulo School of Medicine. (Photo by Simon Plestenjak)

amfAR has a history of supporting community HIV organizations in Brazil, including GPV-RJ, Sociedade Viva Cazuza (named for the famous Brazil singer who died of AIDS-related causes in 1990), and Grupo de Trabalho Em Prevenção Posithivo in Recife, which have used amfAR funding to promote HIV testing and provide treatment, housing and other assistance to people with HIV.

“Historically, Brazil has shown robust leadership in combating HIV/AIDS,” said Johnston. “We’ve learned over the years that there is much to be gained from the exchanging of information and ideas with colleagues in Brazil and other countries that have mounted an effective response to HIV.”

The Foundation also allocated a portion of the proceeds from its 2015 amfAR Gala São Paulo to the Instituto Nacional de Infectologia (INI) Evandro Chagas in Rio de Janeiro. The funds supported the Opposites Attract Study, which explores the effectiveness of HIV “treatment as prevention” among gay male serodiscordant couples (where one is HIV positive and the other is negative). INI is one of 16 clinical sites participating in the study.