Daily pill reduces risk of HIV infection, African studies show


THE PARTNERS of people who have HIV can protect themselves from infection by taking a pill once a day, two groundbreaking studies in Botswana, Kenya and Uganda have shown.

The discovery could bring work to combat Aids close to a “tipping point”, experts say. Attempts to promote condom use to protect against HIV in the hardest-hit parts of the world, and particularly Africa, have hit cultural barriers and had limited success.

But now it appears that men or women who know – or suspect – their partner has HIV could protect themselves, secretly if necessary. The larger study, involving 4,758 “discordant” couples (where one has HIV but the other has not) in Kenya and Uganda, led by the University of Washington’s international clinical research centre, shows those taking a daily tablet of the Aids drug tenofovir had 62 per cent fewer infections and those who took a pill combining tenofovir and emtricitabine had 73 per cent fewer infections than those who took a placebo pill.

The drugs have few side effects, which is important if they are to be given to healthy individuals. Both are made by Gilead, which has licensed their manufacture to generic companies in the developing world, allowing them to produce cheap copies.

“This study demonstrates that antiretrovirals are a highly potent and fundamental cornerstone for HIV prevention and should become an integral part of global efforts for HIV prevention,” said Dr Connie Celum, professor of global health and medicine at the university and principal investigator of the study, known as the Partners PrEP Study, which was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The second study, in Botswana, was conducted by the United States Centres for Disease Control. It followed 1,200 heterosexual men and women without HIV who received either a daily tenofovir/emtricitabine tablet or a placebo pill. The antiretroviral tablet reduced the risk of acquiring HIV infection by roughly 63 per cent overall.

“This is a major scientific breakthrough which reconfirms the essential role that antiretroviral medicine has to play in the Aids response,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids.

“These studies could help us to reach the tipping point in the HIV epidemic.” – ( Guardianservice)