, NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 26 – HIV prevention among people classified as ‘high risk’ groups has gone a notch higher after a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that Truvada, a drug used to treat HIV-positive people may offer men who have sex with men significant protection against HIV transmission.
The study involved 2,500 gay and bisexual men, and 29 transgender women between the ages of 18 and 67 from Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, South Africa, Thailand and the United States.
Dr Nelly Mugo of the University of Washington said on Friday that this was welcome news which showed that anti retroviral treatment could also be used to prevent HIV transmission.
“The question of resistance has actually made people think we should not use ARV- based prevention methods,” she noted.
“Key though is that when people are on treatment because they are infected, the challenge of resistance is even higher. If we can stem the well of infections, then I think that the pocket of treatment would be more sufficient, so we must stem this epidemic and we have one more tool…Hallelujah let’s celebrate!” Dr Mugo stated.
However, National Aids and STI Control Programme (NASCOP) Deputy Director and Head of HIV prevention Dr Peter Cherutich said it would take time before the government took up this strategy.
“We have a process in this country, we have a technical working group that will look at the results and decide how we should go about this. It is unlikely that we will just pick the drug and distribute it, it’s not ethical,” he said.
“The results of the study were very good for those who adhered but this was a trial setting where a lot of follow up and information was given. We need to first research on real life setting,” Dr Cherutich added.
The study showed that the drug reduced HIV infection rate among sexually active gay men by 44 percent while those who took the oral drug regularly reduced their risk of infection by 73 percent.
The study comes at a time when Kenya aims to cut the rate of new HIV infections by 50 percent in the next three years with an estimated 130,000 people infected with the deadly virus annually.
National Aids Control Council (NACC) Director Professor Alloys Orago said this would be done through aggressive campaigns on HIV prevention.
“The communities must take charge of programmes and demand for services and ensure that those services are utilised for their own advantage so that they take care of their lives,” Professor Orago said.
He was speaking ahead of the World Aids Day to be marked next Wednesday.
Ruth Laibon-Masha of UNAIDS said the World Aids Day would be a call for commitment among leaders to make resources available for drugs and scale up programmes to prevent new infections.
“Unless human rights are protected, then it’s almost impossible to prevent further infections,” she said.
In the build up to the day about 620,000 people are expected to be tested for HIV in the next 20 days.
The government also targets to circumcise 41,000 male in Nyanza and 7,000 in Nairobi in the next one month as a preventative strategy to the spread of new HIV infections.
Dr Cherutich said they were also encouraging the use of condoms among commercial sex workers with the current usage being between60 and 70 percent which left the rest at risk of contracting the deadly virus
“Everyone who wants to use a condom must have access to that condom and a sex worker should be able to use a condom 100 percent of the time with each client and that is the philosophy that we are promoting,” he stated.
“Almost 30 percent of sex workers in Kenya are infected with HIV and they never tell their clients that they are infected and this is a huge proportion and therefore a huge possibility that they might infect others with HIV and those who are negative need to protect themselves from clients,” Dr Cherutich said.
Promotion of condom use among sex workers is expected to supplement government efforts to reduce the rate of new infections by 50 percent.
“Whatever is driving the epidemic in this country is sexual transmission,” he remarked.