The Hummingbird Unitaid News - December 2018


1. MTV Shuga's quest for HIV ambassadors

2. From months to minutes: getting more babies living with HIV on treatment, in time

3. Meet Carmen Pérez-Casas: senior HIV technical manager with Unitaid's Strategy team

MTV Shuga's quest for HIV ambassadors

The casting for the popular TV drama series MTV Shuga has drawn over 2,000 candidates. Characters will raise awareness of HIV self-testing and PrEP among young Africans, with Unitaid's support.

In October, 2,000 young people in South Africa were lining up for the casting of MTV Shuga, the TV drama series widely broadcast in Africa that launched the career of Oscar-winning Lupita Nyongo. "Some people had been waiting since 3 A.M., wrapped in blankets and holding the hot beverages we were offering," says Georgia Arnold, executive producer of MTV Shuga.

MTV Shuga will introduce storylines on HIV self-testing and preventive therapy (PrEP) to encourage more young people in Africa to protect themselves and find out their HIV status —work supported by one of Unitaid's catalytic grants. "We were looking for great actors that wanted to be part of the change we will make in their communities," says Arnold, who also leads the MTV Staying Alive Foundation. "We train them to become ambassadors, on and off the screen."

Arnold believes the main asset of the Shuga brand is credibility among the audience it wants to reach. "We are not patronizing young people, but telling their stories and reflecting their lives," she says, noting that HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people in Africa, but many are not sure how to avoid the virus or get tested. Watch the following clips to get a taste of the excitement building up towards next season's premiere in February:

Shuga's 'edutainment' campaign extends to social media and complements other Unitaid initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS. We are investing close to US$ 100 million to create a market for HIV self-testing across Africa, and US $41 million to bring PrEP to adolescent girls and young women in South Africa and men who have sex with men and transgender women in Brazil, Mexico and Peru.

Figures include investments in WHO enabling grants that support our HIV self-testing and PrEP portfolio and provide technical support to focus countries, including countries in Asia.

From months to minutes

Expanding access to new diagnostics to get babies born with HIV on treatment in time

An estimated 180,000 children around the world were infected with HIV in 2017, but many are going undiagnosed. In sub-Saharan Africa, only half of all babies exposed to the virus are tested, and only half of them ever receive their test results.

Our catalytic grants with CHAI, UNICEF and EGPAF are expanding access to point-of-care diagnostics to get more babies on treatment in time, paving the way for countries and partners to scale up these technologies. Here's how super-fast, portable diagnostics are bringing us closer to ending paediatric HIV:

bringing the power of medical advances to all

Meet Carmen Pérez-Casas, senior HIV technical manager with Unitaid's Strategy team

While working in low-income countries across the globe, pharmacist and virologist Carmen Pérez-Casas gradually came to a realization: "Often, the medicines and diagnostic devices that are most widely used are not the most appropriate." They are either low quality, not adapted to the needs of vulnerable people in remote locations, or altogether absent.

Carmen's career spans 20 years, four continents and organizations such as Pharmacists Without Borders, Doctors Without Borders and the Global Fund. One overarching ideal has guided her work for many years ...

"How can we ensure the quality, affordability and supply of new health products, so that people who most need them don't have to wait for ten years from the date of their approval to benefit from them?"

As senior HIV technical manager with Unitaid's Strategy team, she now identifies the innovations with the most potential to reduce the burden of HIV globally. "My entire career has been devoted to bringing the best health solutions to those who need them, regardless of where they are living or where they were born," she says.

For Carmen, Unitaid was a natural fit. "Left to their own devices, markets cannot ensure access to the best health solutions for all. At Unitaid, we find the best innovations and then remove the obstacles that stand in the way of them being adopted at scale." Innovative products and approaches can make the response to major diseases more simple and efficient, something she sees as critical given that resources are limited, but global health goals are more ambitious than ever.

Her most memorable moment at Unitaid? "The approval of the first project to create a market for HIV self-testing in sub-Saharan Africa," she says. "We saw the need to introduce the tests on that continent at a time they where only available in the U.S.; it was bold, but well worth the effort." Unitaid has gone on to support the largest HIV self-testing campaign in the world, revolutionizing the way men and young people find out their HIV status. By 2020, HIV self-testing could help detect one in every three cases of HIV.

"HIV is a fast-changing field, and the flexibility and capacity to respond to this changing landscape is part of what makes us unique."

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