International HIV research to improve sexual and reproductive health of indigenous women and girls

The lessons learned from understanding the HIV pandemic are also crucial to confronting the challenges posed by COVID-19, says the University’s Dr Clive Aspin.

A new international collaboration investigating the sexual and reproductive health of indigenous women living with HIV will share and build upon New Zealand learnings for the “next pandemic”, says a participating researcher at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington.

The project, led by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, has been successful in gaining CA$3.5 million funding over five years from the Canadian Institute of Health Research.

Victoria University of Wellington will work with universities and community groups from Canada, India, Nepal, Nigeria, Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador.

Dr Clive Aspin (Ngāti Maru, Ngāti Whanaunga, and Ngāti Tamaterā), acting director of the Health Services Research Centre in the Wellington Faculty of Health at Victoria University of Wellington, says the project is a “ground-breaking initiative to provide an opportunity to expand indigenous networks and research capacity in a number of resource-poor countries”.

“Internationally, indigenous women and girls are adversely affected by sexual and reproductive health disparities,” says Dr Aspin. “New Zealand is in a good position to share lessons learned about how to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes for indigenous women and girls.”

The lessons learned from understanding the HIV pandemic are also crucial to confronting the challenges posed by COVID-19, he says.

“As someone who has an intimate knowledge and experience of HIV and COVID, I know the lessons we learn from both these pandemics will provide important lessons for the next pandemic—because there will be another one.

“These lessons can help us understand how to confront the disparities generated by the impact of an pandemic, in particular on Māori and other indigenous women, girls, and communities.”

Victoria University of Wellington has recruited a leading expert in Māori sexual and reproductive health, Dr Alison Green (Ngāti Awa, Ngāti Ranginui, and Ngāiterangi), to contribute to the project.

“Dr Green will use her expertise to strengthen our international relationship with indigenous groups in other countries,” says Dr Aspin.

The project highlights the importance of this ongoing work in New Zealand, he says.

“New Zealand needs to improve its sexual and reproductive health policy for Māori women and girls because it’s an area of high need, especially with respect to our people.”

He says this is a great opportunity for Victoria University of Wellington to enhance its position as an international leader and collaborator working to improve the health of indigenous people around the world.

The project will extend the University’s international networks, building on established relationships in countries such as Canada and Australia, and creating new ones in countries such as Ecuador, Peru, Nepal, India, and Nigeria.

The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network grant scored first in a field of 30 applications, of which nine were funded.

Canadian universities involved include the University of Toronto, Simon Fraser University, Queen’s University, the University of Victoria, and the University of Toronto Scarborough.