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Tuesday, 19 September 2017 15:44

Evidence in a post-truth world

by Josee Koch

Global Evidence Summit, 2017

The last day of the 2017 Global Evidence Summit was packed with a fascinating convergence of concepts and experiences, largely devoted to the role of evidence in a “post-truth” world. It was also the day for EHPSA’s presentation on its approach to Evidence into Action.

Last year, “post-truth” was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, mainly driven by the popularity the word gained within the context of the US elections and the Brexit movement.


Post-truth describes a situation in which objective facts (i.e. evidence) are less influential than appeals to the emotion. The rise of the post-truth world has academics and scientists worried (is anyone still listening to them?) but the discussion made me wonder whether the concept of post-truth is really new, or whether academics have been out of touch with reality for a long time. This got me worried.
The answer to my concerns could very well be found in the context of the EHPSA programme. EHPSA operates in a politically sensitive environment around HIV prevention for key populations and vulnerable groups - those challenged by social norms, stereotypes and societal beliefs and values (i.e. emotions). EHPSA contributes to finding answers to complex questions:

  • If adolescent girls are not supposed to have sex, how can we design combination prevention policies that take into account the fact that sexual activity is a reality and that the risk of HIV infection is real?
  • If MSM is criminalised, how do we deliver evidence-based services?
  • If prisoners are regarded as criminals, and sexual violence is ignored, how can we convince government that implementing treatment as prevention in correctional services is feasible and effective?

In the world of HIV prevention research, efforts to ensure evidence is put into action have never been straightforward and this resulted in the realisation that evidence is just one piece of the puzzle. Sounds pretty much like a post-truth world to me, yet HIV researchers have successfully navigated this landscape for decades. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the scientific community to worry less about countering the post-truth phenomenon with comprehensive models, ecosystems, methodologies or systematic reviews, and focus on learning from the HIV movement, which has succeeded in part by creating a strong bond and alliance between activism, evidence and delivering social justice.
GES 2017 has reconfirmed that EHPSA’s should continue to ensure HIV prevention evidence for vulnerable groups is put into action, but, over and above that, EHPSA should ensure that its approach to EiA is put into action. And this is exactly what the programme is going to focus on in the coming months. Exciting times to come!

Presentation on EHPSA's approach to Evidence into Action.ppt icon small Read...

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