Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Finding the IRMA Advocate Within - at Oxford!

“Hey, this is something I can do!”

by Jerome Galea, IRMA Steering Committee Member

I’d like to share with the IRMA readership a recent experience I had that I hope inspires others to do the same: give a public presentation on Rectal Microbicides (RM) describing what they are and why we need them.  As Jim Pickett will attest I was pretty nervous about the proposition but with lots of support from IRMA as well as friends who sat through my “dress rehearsal” the day before, I learned that I actually know lots about the topic and can make a decent show of it…which means probably most people reading this could, as well.

A bit of background – I’m studying in London and through some colleagues was asked if I’d be willing to present at a seminar series on evidence based interventions at the Department of Social Policy and Social work at Oxford (!) University.  The invitation happened months ago and I said “sure” without thinking much about it.  But as the day grew nearer and I saw all of the other speakers in the lineup (all PhDs and lots of professors, neither of which I am) I started to panic.

I tried to get out of it but the convener encouraged me to do it saying basically that “a degree doesn’t guarantee you know what you’re speaking on; if you know it, you know it!”

So, the first person I called was Jim Pickett – I knew he’d be able to point me in the right direction and provide support and even materials that I could adapt to my audience.  In this case it was a group of masters and PhD students from varied backgrounds but all interested in learning more about RM.

When I talked to Jim, we discussed what IRMA materials I could use but also how I could personalize the presentation with my particular interests (e.g., RM in Latin America).  In this way I had a solid foundation of time-tested materials to work from to which I could merge in my personal style and interests to come up with something that was unique.

When I started the presentation (which is available on the IRMA website, “No Butts About It – Rectal Microbicides and HIV Prevention” -  blatantly plagiarizing  Jim’s presentations) the first thing I asked of the 50 or so attendees was how many had heard of microbicides and to my surprise about three-quarters had.  Working from that base was great since people already had an idea that such a product was under development, but admittedly most had heard only of vaginal microbicides.

Working from the IRMA materials, I first presented an overview of HIV/AIDS in the world; talked about the “tool box” of prevention interventions and where microbicides fit in; showed how microbicides work and discussed current studies underway; talked about anal sex as a human behavior and then focused in on my interest in Latin America.  I capped-off the talk with a call to advocacy, inviting the audience to take part in IRMA by visiting our website, joining a conference call or taking part in a more formal way. 

To my surprise no one fell asleep (well, one guy dozed…but it was late in the afternoon and the room was stuffy) and afterwards there were about 30 minutes of lively dialogue.  Some questions had to do with what the microbicide field should do in terms of acceptability work, making reference to the struggles other interventions have had in being fully accepted (e.g. the Female Condom). Another person, working in the area of medical history, wondered why RM research lagged behind vaginal microbicides and there was discussion of how homophobia may shape scientific discovery.

All-in-all, once I got into the presentation, I felt like “Hey, this is something I can do!” which leads me to the last thing I’ll say: being part of IRMA implies speaking up in each of our own ways about RM.  If you have the opportunity to speak, no matter how informally, give it a go!  Lots of organizations (community centers, universities, professional societies) are looking for people to give chats on a range of topics.

One thing I learned is that just the title itself – “Rectal Microbicides” – raises eyebrows and piques interest.  With IRMA’s excellent library of resources, you can easily put together a professional presentation with slides  that are up-to-date and easy to explain.  So, give it a go; there’s an advocate in all of us!

[IRMA references]

Community Presentations
Teleconference Materials
IRMA-Specific Materials(e.g. our reports)
Other Published Materials

We are always happy to help!

1 comment:

Marc-André LeBlanc said...

Inspirational, Jerry! That's a great presentation. someone's experience will be highlighted in the next IRMA report! :)

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