On April 28, 2022, Women’s College Hospital scientist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Mona Loutfy received the Canadian Women in HIV CANFAR (Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research) Leadership Award. The award is intended to highlight the incredible work of Canadian women researchers in HIV/AIDS research in Canada and internationally.
In addition to receiving this award, Loutfy also delivered the Dr. Mark Wainberg Lecture at the Canadian Association of HIV Research (CAHR) 2022 conference. The lecture is held in honour of Dr. Wainberg, a renowned Canadian HIV/AIDS researcher and activist. The topic of Loutfy’s keynote was “Women and HIV Research: A Call for Allyship and a Reckoning,” which covered pioneering women HIV researchers in Canada and presented the issues most pertinent to women living with HIV in Canada. She also addressed gender-based and other inequities experienced by women and girls affected by HIV in Canada.
Watch the lecture here.
Loutfy is the founder of the Women and HIV Research Program (WHRP) and partnered with women living with HIV to address their unique clinical needs. HIV is a chronic yet manageable disease, however women living with HIV face unique medical, social, and political obstacles, including intersecting stigmas, such as racism, transphobia and those related to sex work and drug use. Issues such as trauma and violence, as well, are still prevalent. With 80 percent of HIV positive women reporting having experienced violence and 20 percent having experienced it in the past three months. “I want people to know that women with HIV are strong, proud and resilient – they should be acknowledged and celebrated,” says Loutfy.
Pregnancy planning, as well, has become an important issue for HIV-positive people of child-bearing age with a growing number wanting to start families. Loutfy’s work on normalizing pregnancy and parenting in the realm of HIV involves breaking down stigmas and discrimination, which includes having published Canadian HIV Pregnancy Planning Guidelines in 2012 and updated in 2018. With the success of current treatments, the risk of HIV transmission to a baby when the pregnant woman is on effective combination antiretroviral therapy before pregnancy is zero. “One day, I ran into a patient and their partner on the street, and they were pushing a stroller,” says Loutfy. “The couple said it was because of me that they were able to get pregnant and have a baby. That was a great moment.”
A foundation grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) in 2017 allows Loutfy and team to work with key populations affected by HIV, including supporting three organizations. They’ve partnered with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), which supports Indigenous people with HIV, as well as the Trans Women HIV Research Initiative and Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, a community health centre specializing in healthcare for Black and racialized women and supporting Black women living with HIV. “Our support for these organizations is at the community level, allowing for greater self-determination,” says Loutfy.
Congratulations on these incredible achievements, Dr. Loutfy!