A pill that protects against HIV has been approved for use in South Africa.
Truvada, which contains two antiretrovirals, offers more than 90% protection against HIV if taken every day. The Medicines Control Council announced yesterday that it had licensed the drug.
Linda-Gail Bekker, deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, said: ” We are in the midst of a prevention revolution and have a great opportunity to begin to reduce infections in all populations, especially those who are young and particularly vulnerable to infection.”
But the drug works only if taken every day and trials of a similar pill, and of a vaginal gel, failed because many of the participants, thousands of women in Southern Africa, failed to adhere strictly to the treatment regimen – or did not use it at all.
The deputy director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Francois Venter, said: “For a complex of reasons, women didn’t take the products, probably because they didn’t think they were at risk of HIV – but they were wrong.”
He welcomed the Medicines Control Council’s approval of the drug, saying: “There are no magic bullets in HIV prevention but we desperately need new and better options. The new infection rates are appalling.”
Trials in France and in Britain that tested Truvada on promiscuous gay men who took it only before and after a sexual encounter, showed that it gave 86% prevention against HIV infection, even when taken only four times a week.
Kevin Rebe, of Anova’s Health4Men Initiative, said the official licensing of the drug would help his NGO prevent HIV infections in gay men at high risk.
“Our challenge now is to create demand for ARVs as prevention.”
“In the US it was initially very slow in uptake, then exploded. So we might see that growth in the local private sector,” Venter said.
Asked if it would pay for Truvada, Discovery Health CEO Jonathan Broomberg said the scheme was waiting for the publication of guidelines by the government and the SA HIV Clinicians’ Society before deciding, but it was “likely” that it would pay for the treatment of high-risk individuals.
The Department of Health said it was trying to establish whether it should make Truvada or a similar pill available to high-risk individuals, such as prostitutes.