, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 15 – A new study conducted in Kenya and Uganda indicates that Anti Retroviral drugs (ARV) can be used to prevent HIV infection.
The study undertaken by scientists from the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenyatta National Hospital, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and Makerere University in Uganda indicated that HIV medication taken daily was highly effective in preventing HIV infection in Africa.
“There is a lot of debate as to where will you put your money. If you use drugs to prevent and the same drugs are needed by people living with HIV/AIDS, will it cause a shortage?” Dr James Kiarie, a Principle Investigator in the study said on Thursday.
“But I think you have to do both. You have to prevent people from getting HIV and at the same time treat those with HIV. If you only treat, it is like wiping the floor, removing water but the tap is still running,” he explained.
He however emphasised that the medication had to be used alongside other prevention measures like condoms.
It is estimated that only 48 percent of Kenyans in need of the life saving HIV treatment are receiving it.
Dr Nelly Mugo, another Principle Investigator described the study which had over 4,700 participants in Kenya and Uganda was a major breakthrough in preventing the spread of HIV.
“The estimates right now, on a daily basis, have 7,400 new HIV infections globally. Should we use these new findings, we can reduce that figure by 73 percent and the number would be 1,998 which I think is very remarkable and I feel very excited about that,” Dr Mugo said.
The trial which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was done among heterosexual African HIV serodiscordant couples, where one partner had HIV and the other did not, in Kenya and Uganda.
HIV negative partners were randomly assigned in equal numbers to one of the three study groups. The first group was put on Tenofovir, an antiretroviral treatment while the second group was on Truvada, another type of ARV.
“There was also a placebo group where you create a tablet that looks very much like the active ingredient so nobody knows who is on what treatment because we were blinded on who was taking the real medication or who was taking a placebo tablet,” Dr Mugo explained.
The concept was borrowed from that of Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission (PMTCT) of HIV where children born of HIV infected mothers are immediately started on ARV’s which they take throughout the breastfeeding period and this has proven successful in preventing transmission to the child.
“This principle was taken to the adult population and the question is if a sexually active HIV negative adult takes an antiretroviral medication every day, can they be prevented from acquiring the infection,” Dr Mugo said.
All study participants received a comprehensive package of HIV prevention services which included intensive safer sex counselling, HIV testing, free condoms, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and monitoring and care for HIV infection.
Out of the couples who were on trial, there was a total of 78 new HIV infections out of which 47 were amongst people who were on placebo, 18 were on Tenofovir and 13 amongst those taking Truvada.
The research showed that taking Truvada daily reduced the chances of HIV infection by 73 percent while Tenofovir reduced the risk of transmission by 62 percent.
Side effects reported during the study were diarrhoea and bloated stomachs.
The study began in July 2008 and was completed in November 2010.