Taking a daily dose of an antiretroviral will dramatically reduce the risk of HIV infection especially among high risk groups.
This is according to two studies carried out in Kenya and Uganda and released on Wednesday in Washington in the US.
“This is a major breakthrough especially for discordant couples and even for women with wandering partners who refuse to use condoms,” one of the researchers, Dr Nelly Mugo of Kenyatta National Hospital said.
Dr Mugo described this as an incredible achievement. “It is excellent news. It simply means taking a once a day pill (Truvada or Tenofovir) reduces the risk of acquiring HIV infection.”
The study, carried out among 4,758 HIV discordant couples — where one partner is HIV positive — was done by KNH, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and the University of Washington, US.
It proved that the two antiretrovirals, which are already in use in Kenya for management of HIV among infected people, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 73 per cent.
In Kenya, the studies were carried out at KNH, Thika, Kisumu and Eldoret. “This could fundamentally change how HIV prevention is done in Africa.
“It is clear evidence that this new HIV prevention strategy, called pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP), substantially reduces HIV infection risk,” says a statement released by the University of Washington on Wednesday.
PrEP is where one takes medicine before being exposed to an infection but with the knowledge that he is likely to be involved in a risky situation.
An example is the taking of malaria medication before travelling to a malaria zone.
Asked whether there is danger of people overexposing themselves on the strength of the new protection, Dr Mugo said many human behavioural studies have shown this not to be the case.
“The fact that people know there is effective soaps to wash their clothes does not mean they will go out of their way to court dirt.”
This new weapon against HIV, she added, must be used in combination with others such as the condom, male circumcision and “good sex behaviour,”
The studies, which started in 2008, saw 10 per cent of participating women get pregnant annually.
According to the statement, those who got pregnant were discontinued from the study.