With the buzz that tends to be drummed up when a clinical trial is not, at least on the surface, a complete failure, it is easy to forget what things are like in countries with high HIV prevalence. IRIN has an article about health systems in Kenya needing an overhaul and the frequency of drug shortages and stock outs. Uganda, Tanzania and other countries have similar problems.
This is not just about drugs. On my other blog yesterday, I cited a systematic review of healthcare associated infections which noted "inadequate environmental hygienic conditions; poor infrastructure; insufficient equipment; understaffing; overcrowding; paucity of knowledge and application of basic infection-control measures; prolonged and inappropriate use of invasive devices and antibiotics; scarcity of local and national guidelines and policies [and] reuse of scarce resources, such as needles and gloves."
This is not just about HIV, either. People suffer from and die from preventable and curable diseases, conditions that are cheap and easy to prevent and cure. Many of these diseases relate to a complete lack of basic scientific, health and hygiene knowledge. Many relate to lack of basic rights, such as clean water and sanitation and a healthy environment.
Many people in East African countries have little or no access to health facilities and it's difficult to know how to view that problem. Because many are infected with various 'hospital acquired infections' (HAI) in health facilities, such as HIV, hepatitis, bacterial infections, urinary infections and numerous others. In fact, high rates of HIV are often correlated with relatively high access to health facilities. The lowest rates are often in places where people don't have access to health services.
Large scale rollout of antiretroviral drugs (ARV) has had mixed results, with many people continuing to die of preventable and treatable conditions, such as TB. The number of people on ARVs is quite a small proportion of those who need them. And countries with big programs are depending on donor funding, which is not guaranteed to get any higher, and may even drop.
So the questions are: will health systems be improved enough to make a better job of supplying the enormous number of people who would be in need of PrEP than has been done with ARVs? Where will all the money come from and will the problem of ARV rollout be solved at the same time? Will health issues other than HIV receive the attention they deserve or will people with needs that can be resolved cheaply and simply continue to be ignored?
PrEP is just a pill, it is not the means for ensuring that people who need it receive it and take it as prescribed for as long as they need it. That's no different from ARV treatment, either. But with ARVs, we know that a sustained program with a wide enough reach is still pretty elusive.
So why are we talking about PrEP as if it is anything more than a theory? Universal access to clean water and other basic rights should have been provided before ARVs, at least people would have something with which to swallow the pills. Otherwise, we're just tinkering with the problem.