USAID’s CATALYST study expands HIV prevention options for women and girls in Africa

By United States Agency for International Development

USAID’s CATALYST study expands HIV prevention options for women and girls in Africa

A USAID-supported study is expanding options for HIV prevention products for women and girls in Africa, a population disproportionately affected by the virus; in sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women were more than three times as likely to acquire HIV than their male peers in 2022.

The study is also generating new evidence on product perspectives and preferences to help increase HIV prevention coverage and reduce new HIV infections.

Through funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), USAID’s Catalyzing Access to New Prevention Products to Stop HIV (CATALYST) is a first-of-its-kind study that provides full information on and access to three biomedical HIV prevention methods – daily oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the dapivirine ring (a monthly vaginal ring also called the PrEP ring), and the newly-introduced injectable cabotegravir for PrEP (CAB PrEP) that is administered every two months. So far, CATALYST has enrolled nearly 4,000 participants in Kenya, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

USAID is a key implementing agency for PEPFAR which has saved more than 25 million lives since 2003. With this new study, USAID advances HIV prevention science for adolescent girls and young women, getting us closer to the goal of ending HIV as a public health threat by 2030.

CATALYST, which started in May 2023, aims to accelerate access to a suite of biomedical HIV prevention methods and comprehensive counseling to support young women and girls in making a fully informed decision about the method. The results of the study will improve access, counseling, and options for women as this new generation of HIV prevention products comes to market. By offering three distinct prevention options and tracking participant feedback, PEPFAR-supported service delivery sites can better anticipate the demand for new methods and then offer methods that are more likely to meet the specific needs and preferences of women and girls.

Adolescent girls and young women, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, face a higher risk of HIV infection due to the underlying biology of HIV transmission that is amplified by factors such as social and gender inequities, poverty, discrimination, orphanhood, gender-based violence, and inadequate schooling. These women at substantial risk of acquiring HIV often find challenges in the limited number of HIV prevention options available to them. In particular, daily oral pills can be challenging to use consistently, and lack the ability to adhere to medicines discreetly, which may increase experienced or perceived stigma for users.