Preventative drugs paving the way in fight against HIV

PrEPs are set to be an important tool in the UN and EU's fight against HIV/AIDS. [Shutterstock]

New drugs intended to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS were one of the stars of a medical conference held last year in Vancouver. This year’s edition will outline whether they are a viable treatment. EURACTIV’s partner El País – Planeta Futuro reports.

The use of preventative medicine in the fight against AIDS was approved by the US’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 2012. The studies presented in Canada demonstrated, through scientific consensus, that such drugs can be an effective tool when dealing with at-risk people and ending the HIV epidemic. This is in line with the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and the Agenda 2030.

The treatment, which is a combination of active antiretroviral drugs, has shown to be 90% efficient in stopping transmission of the virus when a condom is not used. Many of the researchers involved with the project reported at the Vancouver meeting that efficiency neared 100% among subjects who took the drugs religiously.

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These findings have prompted the World Health Organisation (WHO) to recommend the use of these drugs, also known as PrEPs, to at-risk people, who include sex workers, transexuals, homosexual men and people who practice unprotected sex.

Specialists now believe that the use of PrEPs and antiretroviral drugs “could prevent 21 million deaths and 28 million new cases by 2030”, according to the WHO.

This in no way means that scientists now advocate that people abandon other preventative measures like condoms. They will continue to be important weapons in the fight against HIV, because PrEPs are not a suitable option for the entire population and their availability is not on the same level as condoms.

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Additionally, it is taken as read that all medications have potential side-effects and that condoms will fail at some point.

One of the concerns that came out of the Vancouver conference was that the removal of condoms in the testing phase could lead to a skyrocket in other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). However, the studies that have been concluded so far show that the prevalence of STIs among PrEP users did not increase.

In a few days, this year’s edition of the conference will begin, this time in Durban, South Africa. Several of the studies set to be presented will outline the successes and potential shortcomings of the treatment that was so well received last time around.

El País - Planeta Futuro

El País - Planeta Futuro

In 2012, more than 131,000 new HIV infections were reported in Europe and Central Asia, and a total of 29,000 new cases in the European Union and European Economic Area. Effective treatment of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections exists but there is still no cure, nor a preventive vaccine.

EU policies involve providing political support to authorities and stakeholders in EU countries and neighbouring countries to:

  • improve access to prevention, treatment, care and support
  • reach migrants from countries with a high prevalence of HIV
  • improve policies targeting the populations most at risk.

PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medication that keeps HIV negative people from becoming infected. PrEP is approved by the FDA and has been shown to be safe and effective.

A single pill taken once daily, it is highly effective against HIV when taken every day. The medication interferes with HIV’s ability to copy itself in the body after exposure. This prevents it from establishing an infection.

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