Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) involves putting HIV negative people on antiretroviral drugs (ARV) with the aim of protecting them from HIV infection. This blog looks at some of the pros and cons of PrEP.

Monday, August 1, 2011

UNAIDS: Everyone in Africa is at Risk of HIV; so PrEP is Useless?

I've found an uncharacteristically sensible article on PrEP, although it's written from a US perspective. It concludes that "Findings from the randomized clinical trials that PrEP is efficacious should mark the beginning of the policy discussion, not its end."

The article also demands proof of desirability and even deliverability of PrEP before the strategy is implemented. The authors note that sustained and effective counseling is a must to ensure proper adherence to the drugs and that the level of counseling required, which makes up a major part of clinical trials, is unlikely to be part of a community implementation.

Also noted are the lengths that researchers had to go to in order to retain participants in the iPrEx trial, an aspect of such trials that is rarely mentioned when reports of standing ovations at expensive pharmaceutical sponsored conferences come out. The odds during the iPrEx trial seemed to have been stacked against getting a poor result. And yet the result was pretty unimpressive.

The article covers a lot of interesting aspects of PrEP that are rarely mentioned among the post trial hype, such as development of resistance to antiretroviral drugs, increased 'unsafe' sexual behavior among some who think PrEP will give them 100% protection and the sheer cost of such a program that provides drugs for uninfected people when there isn't even enough funding for those who are infected.

But the article, perhaps being written from a rich country perspective, doesn't mention how spectacularly unsuccessful we have been in identifying 'core transmitters' of HIV in developing countries. In fact, any group that could be considered to be contributing significantly to HIV epidemics in high prevalence African countries is dwarfed by the percentage of infections that are said to come from 'low risk' groups.

In short,if PrEP ever proved itself to be feasible in high prevalence African countries, we wouldn't have the faintest idea where to start.

[For more about HIV and risk, see my other blog, HIVinKenya]


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