Scientists have made a breakthrough in HIV prevention as results from a clinical trial found that taking an injection once every eight weeks was more effective than taking a daily pill in preventing the virus.
In a study spanning several years by researchers from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN), data from the clinical trial found that pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP, taken by injection once every eight weeks was safer and more superior to daily oral intake which is currently used for HIV prevention by women in sub-Saharan Africa.
The trial, known as HPTN 084, was headed by director of research at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI), Dr Sinead Delany-Moretlwe.
It found that respondents were approximately nine times more likely to be infected with HIV through the oral preventative measure.
This was a major breakthrough for women on the continent.
“We know that adherence to a daily pill continues to be challenging, and an effective injectable product such as a long-acting CAB [cabotegravir injection] is a very important additional HIV prevention option for them. We are grateful to the women who volunteered for this study and the research staff, as this study would not have been possible without their commitment to HIV prevention,” she said.
The trial enrolled 3223 cisgender women at research sites in South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe, with 57% of them being under the age of 25 while the average age of participants was 26 years.
About 82% of the participants were not living with a partner while 55% reported to have had two or more partners in the past month. Approximately 34% of them reported to having a primary partner who was living with HIV, or their HIV status was unknown.
The trial found that 38 HIV infections occurred during the follow-up, with four being those who used the injection and the remainder being on oral preventative trial.
But the groundbreaking preventative measure would not available to the public soon as more research and development had to be completed, said executive director of Wits RHI, Professor Helen Rees.
“These results are a milestone for prevention of HIV among women at risk worldwide and especially for women in sub-Saharan Africa. If we are to turn the tide on the HIV epidemic, we will need prevention options that work for women in sub-Saharan Africa. These findings provide great hope and motivation for additional studies to show safety and acceptability in adolescents, pregnant and breastfeeding women,” said Rees.