It remains unacceptable that women and girls worldwide continue to confront preventable sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, as well as face high rates of unintended pregnancies. It is unacceptable that advocates, scientists, and politicians still need to convince people that investing in, innovating around, and creating a supportive policy environment for women’s health is imperative. Public health figures should speak for themselves – women need access, innovation, more options for disease and pregnancy prevention. It has been nearly 40 years since the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, 60 years since the first birth control pill became available, and 90 years since penicillin was discovered and became a successful treatment for bacterial STIs. While many critical advances have been made in the decades following these sexual and reproductive health milestones, the continued suffering of millions of women worldwide means that we, as a public health community, need to do better.
And, so goes the rallying cry of the emerging field of multipurpose prevention technologies, otherwise known as MPTs. MPTs are products that women can use to prevent at least two sexual and reproductive health risks at the same time – combining contraception with HIV prevention, HIV prevention with other STI prevention, or contraception with other STI prevention. This is an exciting space in women’s health innovation, as the MPT field builds products using feedback from women and girls about what they want and need as a prevention tool. Critical to this approach is that the field aims to have a wide range of product options recognizing that women and girls want and need different things under varying life circumstances and throughout their life course.
Aside from condoms, there aren’t any MPTs on the market yet – a fact that does raise questions among skeptics, like: ‘How do we know women will like them? How do we know women will use them? How do we know these products will work?’ The truth is, that while we have some evidence based on a theoretical product concept – in particular, research suggesting that women and girls want an MPT – we don’t know for sure. We believe, however, that MPTs are a promising opportunity to tackle an enormous need for sexual and reproductive health prevention approaches. And we believe that for women worldwide, it is well worth trying.
We are the IMPT, and together we are showing up for women and girls and their sexual and reproductive health. Will you join us?