“We now take evidence-based medicine for granted,” Dr. Sten Vermund of the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health said last month. “We need evidence-based prevention programs just as much.”

Vermund is one of three prominent researchers scheduled to speak at “Beyond Condoms: Communities, Disparities, and HIV Prevention” at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 21, at the Hotel Preston in Nashville. According to organizer Mark Hubbard, the forum will have an interactive format.

“The panelists will present and then a significant amount of time will be devoted to questions from the audience,” he said, adding, “All three understand the importance of community involvement to research.”

After a string of disappointing results from trials last year, leaders in the field reminded communities of the importance of maintaining traditional strategies like education, condom usage, and testing until additional methods can be proven.

Citing figures consistent with state and regional data, Dr. Vermund pointed out that “gay and bisexual men continue to be in the forefront of HIV risk and represent 50 percent of all new cases diagnosed with HIV in the U.S. each year.” Because many don’t relate to mainstream, visible gay communities, they represent a challenging population to engage, he said, emphasizing that community-based workers and volunteers are more likely to know the ‘who, how, and where’ of behaviors fueling the pandemic.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researcher Greg Millet’s work has addressed the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on black men, who make up half of those cases. Mr. Millet’s meta-analysis of risk behaviors among men who have sex with men was published in the journal AIDS last year. It found that individual risk behaviors do not appear to be driving the disparity in HIV/AIDS among black men who have sex with men.

On the technology front, Dr. James E.K. Hildreth leads bio-medically focused research at the Meharry Medical College Center for AIDS Health Disparities. His work includes efforts to develop a safe and effective microbicide, a product that could be applied topically to prevent HIV transmission during intercourse. In an advisory board presentation here last month, he emphasized the significance of women having a prevention tool that allows them to avoid objections from their male partners. Hildreth also said that globally there is a need for something that protects against HIV but is not contraceptive. Such a product, if safe for rectal use, would also be important for gay and bisexual men.

“Beyond Condoms” is presented by the Tennessee Association of People with AIDS, the Tennessee AIDS Education and Training Center (Comprehensive Care Center,) and the Vanderbilt Meharry Center for AIDS Research. It is open to the public and a dinner buffet will be provided.

Those who plan to attend should RSVP to Catherine J. Bays at cbays@sedev.org or 423-424-4270.

Financial support for the event has been provided by Nashville Pharmacy Services, Roche Laboratories, Inc., and Samaritan Ministries. Additional supporters include the Southeast Tennessee Development District, the Tennessee Department of Health HIV/AIDS/STD section, the Vanderbilt AIDS Clinical Trials Center Community Advisory Board, the Vanderbilt HIV Vaccine Program Community Advisory Board, the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, the Meharry Medical College Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health, Out & About Newspaper, and InsideOut Nashville.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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