Unitaid to finance HIV shots in Brazil, South Africa
International health agency Unitaid said Friday it will finance the introduction of new, long-lasting HIV prevention injections in Brazil and South Africa, providing an alternative to daily pill popping.
nternational health agency Unitaid said Friday it will finance the introduction of new, long-lasting HIV prevention injections in Brazil and South Africa, providing an alternative to daily pill popping.
Taking a drug known as PrEP, normally prescribed to treat AIDS, as a way to shield against the deadly disease has proved a vital tool for those at greatest risk of contracting HIV.
But Unitaid, which works on ensuring equitable access to medical innovations, stressed that the oral treatment is only effective if taken as prescribed, either once a day, or before and after sex for men.
This, as well as disparities in access, means that despite the high protection the pills can offer, the uptake has been slow, the agency said.
Currently, only about one million people have access to PrEP worldwide.
A new injection provides a far easier alternative for those at risk of contracting HIV.
Only requiring six injections a year, it is considered 70-90 percent more effective than taking daily pills, Unitaid spokesman Herve Verhoosel told reporters in Geneva.
– ‘Game-changing impact’ –
“Long-acting PrEP could have a game-changing impact, improving choice and making HIV prevention a more viable option for more people,” he said.
But he stressed that impact would only be realised if it could be made affordable and more available, beyond just the United States and other high-income countries.
n a bid to speed up the process, Unitaid will fund pilot programmes among groups with high rates of HIV prevalence in Brazil and South Africa, he said.
The initial doses are being donated by pharmaceutical company ViiV.
But Verhoosel stressed the need to negotiate down the price — the cost of a year’s treatment in the United States is currently $22,000 — and ensure the development of generic versions.
Brazil’s programme will target the country’s transgender population, 30 percent of whom live with HIV, and men who have sex with men — a group for whom the HIV infection rate stands at 18 percent.
The South African programme will target adolescent girls and young women, who are infected at a disproportionate rate in the country.
Unitaid said six in seven HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa occur among girls, while women are twice as likely to be living with HIV than their male peers.
The agency said its South African pilot would also include a second new long-acting HIV prevention product: the dapivirine vaginal ring.
The flexible silicon ring is the first completely women-initiated HIV prevention method, lasts for 28 days and can be inserted without medical assistance, Unitaid said.