April 21, 2020
Dear MTN Friends and Family,
The mark of a great organization is not how well it performs when things are good, but how well it performs when things are bad. During this COVID-19 pandemic – a time like no other we have experienced before – this network has been nothing short of amazing.
Our REACH (MTN-034) sites have been continuing follow-up with participants doing all that they can do to ensure these young women have their study products (the dapivirine ring or Truvada as PrEP) as well as the support they need to continue using these products. Whether making contact by phone or providing special transport to the clinic where multiple safety measures are in place, site staff have gone above and beyond (Read the write-up on REACH-ing Beyond Expectations.)
Likewise, our DESIRE (MTN-035) sites are not letting the threat of COVID-19 stand in the way of completing the final weeks of follow-up for some 180 remaining participants so the study can provide answers about what people who engage in anal sex want in a rectal delivery HIV prevention product.
And in the throes of it all, the Wits RHI Shandukani site in Johannesburg is managing to complete visits with four women in the DELIVER (MTN-042) study, who themselves delivered in recent weeks (both moms and babies are doing well!). Meanwhile, the study teams in Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe are busily working from laptops and home computers (oftentimes with interruptions in service or power) to ensure readiness for study activation after the pandemic subsides. All four sites are working to be activated for B-PROTECTED (MTN-043) as well.
Here in the U.S., staff from our sites, the Network Laboratory, Statistical Data Management Center and Leadership and Operations Center have been similarly constrained but are managing as best they can. Indeed, the whole world is making concessions – doing whatever is necessary to contain the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of our global community.
Earlier today, it was announced that the HIV Research for Prevention Conference (HIVR4P) scheduled to take place 11-15 October in Cape Town has been postponed until 17-21 January 2021.
Likewise, in the best interest of our public health and safety, we have made the decision to cancel the MTN Regional Meeting, which would have taken place the week before HIVR4P. This was to be our last Regional Meeting – we regret that we won’t have that opportunity to celebrate and reflect upon all that we have accomplished together these past 14 years.
It’s no secret that the MTN will cease to be a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-funded network after November 30. But this does not mean the end. NIAID’s Division of AIDS has said it is committed to seeing the REACH, DELIVER and B-PROTECTED studies through to their completion. So, many of us will in fact continue working together. (And while there won’t be a Regional Meeting, we are hoping we can convene a meeting of the three study teams sometime next year.)
And to our other sites and study teams and our many collaborators and partners with whom we have had the pleasure to work with over the years – you are, and will always be, a part of the MTN Family.
The fight against HIV is far from over. Our work continues. Not even the COVID-19 global pandemic will stand in our way.
We will persevere. Together.
Sharon Hillier and Jared Baeten