AIDS 2018: New technologies, new data, new risks

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Sex workers protest to demand their rights at AIDS 2018

The third in a series of four articles on AIDS 2018 for the Health and Human Rights journal. 

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July 24, 2018

Data has been a hot topic throughout the first two days of AIDS 2018—who has it, how to get it, and what kinds of data can speed progress to the end of AIDS. But while new technologies are generating real excitement among donors and researchers, human rights activists are rarely in these discussions, leaving questions of risk and ethics largely in the shadows.

Some new methods that are rapidly on the rise include:

  • Geospatial mapping, which uses individual data to map key population hotspots and patterns of migration
  • Biometrics, the collection of physical markers such as iris scans, fingerprints, or facial scans that can identify individuals, and
  • Phylogenetics, the use of molecular sequencing data, such as DNA, to trace historical relationships among people and chart the transmission of viruses.

These are some examples of data use presented in the first two days: we have heard about the use of biometrics to track sex workers and long distance truckers in African transportation corridors; a Mumbai project that mapped sites around the city of men who have sex with men using Grindr, a gay dating app; use of HIV genotyping and phylogenetics to assess transmission of resistance.

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