This summer marked an important milestone for preventing HIV in women and a beautiful moment for me. On July 24, the dapivirine vaginal ring, the first long acting HIV prevention product for women and a major subject of my research at the Women’s Global Health Imperative, moved one step closer to real-world access. After years of uncertainty and delays, the European Medicines Agency provided a positive scientific opinion about the ring. This decision places the ring on the path toward regulatory approval, so that globally, women who need protection from HIV have more options. But mostly, this decision is impactful because it represents the next step towards providing real choice to women. And choice is not just needed, it is also beautiful.
Why is choice beautiful in HIV prevention? First, it empowers the user, thereby fully recognizing individual agency. In one study where we provide product choice to young women who decided to join, they reported feeling respected, loved and “important people”, because the choice of the method they used was theirs. Second, choice is compassionate. It is also inclusive because it explicitly assumes differences in opinions, preferences, behaviors and circumstances. Finally, choice is respectful because it acknowledges that people are not monochromatic. Offering a rainbow of options is an important way to meet their needs.