PITTSBURGH, May 25 A community educator who developed innovative ways to link women in Tanzanian villages with life-saving HIV prevention information and with HIV prevention research trials has received the second Omololu Falobi Award for Excellence in HIV Prevention Research Community Advocacy. The award was presented during the closing ceremony of the Microbicides 2010 Conference in Pittsburgh, USA.
Charles Shagi, a Program Officer for the African Medical and Research Foundation based in Mwanza, Tanzania, was honored for his significant contributions to developing and sustaining community engagement and education programs that empower women and their communities to advocate for themselves and to become vital partners in HIV prevention research trials.
"Bringing HIV prevention research to communities is an essential part of our work to develop new HIV prevention options for men and women," said Sharon Hillier, Microbicides 2010 Co-chair and a member of the award selection committee. "Charles embodies what this award was created to recognize: leadership, commitment and passion in community advocacy. He works tirelessly not only to help women advocate on their own behalf and to become involved in research, but also to educate and empower researchers to understand the needs of women, their families and communities."
"I am very humbled to accept this award, and for me, it really underscores the value this field put on the importance of reaching out to the women - in the villages of Tanzania and around the world - who participate in these trials," said Shagi. "This award is important because it proves that people do care about them. It is the courage of those women that is being honored today. I look forward to continuing to share the voices and experiences of vulnerable women with the research and advocacy communities."
"I urge all HIV prevention researchers to listen to the community. There is need for all of us to change attitude, but especially the researchers and our leaders since we have a long walk left. Communities should be at the center of research, not at the periphery," Shagi added.
The Omololu Falobi Award highlights the essential role of community advocacy and leadership in HIV prevention research. It celebrates the life and values of the late Omololu Falobi, a long-time HIV advocate and journalist who founded Journalists Against AIDS in Nigeria, was an instrumental pioneer member of the Nigerian Treatment Access Movement, and co-founded the New HIV Vaccine & Microbicide Advocacy Society. Omololu was killed in Lagos, Nigeria in October 2006. The award was conceived as an ongoing legacy that recognizes his commitment and lasting contributions to HIV prevention research advocacy.
"Omololu was a visionary leader and activist, who accomplished much in his too short a life. He dedicated himself to powerful advocacy for HIV and HIV prevention research in Nigeria, Africa and worldwide," said Funmi Doherty of NHVMAS in Nigeria. "It is gratifying to see his ideals and vision live on through this award. I know he would be immensely proud of the work that Charles and the past recipients are doing to simultaneously advance human rights and HIV prevention research."
Shagi was chosen from among an impressive group of almost 20 nominees by an independent international panel of HIV prevention research advocates, policy makers, and scientists. The selection committee noted his instrumental role in pioneering new ways to bring the voices of community members and participants into the research process.
"Charles' enthusiasm is infectious, and he has been committed to helping recruit and mentor new people to the movement to expand the range of HIV prevention options," said Lori Heise, former Executive Director of the Global Campaign for Microbicides and one of the inaugural recipients of the award and member of the 2010 selection committee. "We need more people like Charles who can ably bridge the gap between researchers and community members."
Charles and his colleagues have also documented and published peer reviewed articles about their model for community representation and participation in HIV prevention trials among women. This research is an important guide for those working on community engagement plans for HIV prevention trials around the world.
"Charles is the epitome of science meets advocacy. In his work with community, he is able to provide important and accurate information as well as collect evidence that is directly applicable to advocacy and policy," said Salim Abdool Karim, Director of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and a member of the 2008 and 2010 selection committees.
The 2010 Omololu Falobi Award Recipient was honored at the M2010 closing ceremony with a plaque and a cash prize. The M2010 Secretariat also provided a full scholarship for the Award recipient to attend the Conference in Pittsburgh.
The Omololu Falobi Award For Excellence In HIV Prevention Research was conceptualised and the process coordinated by the African Microbicides Advocacy Group (AMAG) in partnership with AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention Research, the Global Campaign for Microbicides (GCM), Journalists Against AIDS in Nigeria (JAAIDS), the New HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Society (NHVMAS), and the Treatment Action Movement Nigeria (TAM). Financial support for the 2010 Award came from AMAG, AVAC, GCM, Family Health International and NHVMAS, Open Society Institute in South Africa and UNAIDS.
The 2010 selection committee included Alex Menezes of Brazil, Chibuke Ameachi of Nigeria, Sisonke Msimang and Salim Abdool Karim of South Africa, Cate Hankins of Switzerland, Lori Heise, Polly Harrison and Sharon Hillier of the U.S., and Shaun Mellors of the UK.
The award honors Omololu Falobi, a visionary leader who continues to inspire many people and projects. He was a leading HIV/AIDS activist, an advocate for prevention research, and an exceptional journalist. Omololu made enormous impact in Nigeria and beyond - he nurtured and/or led campaigns related to prevention, treatment and research; won multiple awards nationally and internationally; and earned a tremendous reputation from all who had the privilege to work with him. He established Journalists Against AIDS in Nigeria (JAAIDS), co-created the Nigeria-AIDS eForum, co-founded the Nigerian HIV Vaccine and Microbicide Advocacy Group (NHVMAG), was an instrumental pioneer member of the Treatment Access Movement (TAM) Nigeria and a key leader of the African Civil Society Coalition on HIV and AIDS.
Financial support for the 2010 Award comes from Microbicides 2010 conference, AVAC, GCM, Family Health International, NHVMAS and The United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).