People at risk of HIV in Brazil and South Africa will be among the first to benefit from a highly effective, long-acting injectable HIV preventive treatment through two large-scale operational projects funded by global health agency Unitaid.
The first injection to offer long-lasting protection against HIV is being rolled out in South Africa and Brazil. This will be an alternative to daily medication, says the WHO-affiliate, UNITAID.
Hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNITAID announced the groundbreaking development on Friday, which it is hoped will boost HIV prevention worldwide.
Long-acting cabotegravir is a new HIV prevention method that provides eight weeks of continuous protection against HIV infection through a single intramuscular injection.
This provides an alternative to oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 99 per cent, but only when taken as prescribed: either once a day, or before and after sex for cisgender men.
Developed by ViiV Healthcare and approved by the US health authority, the injection, whose active ingredient is cabotegravir, offers two months of protection against HIV.
“But we need urgent action to ensure people everywhere can benefit,” said UNITAID Executive Director Philippe Duneton.
More viable option
Like other HIV treatments, the anti-retroviral medication works by stopping the virus from replicating in the body, effectively reducing the viral load.
Although existing oral medication – known as “oral pre-exposure prophylaxis,” or oral PrEP – can prevent HIV in 99 per cent of cases, uptake has been slow and targets to reduce new infections have been missed.
This is often because people with HIV fear stigma, discrimination or intimate partner violence if they take the pill every day, said UNITAID spokesperson Herve Verhoosel.
“Long-acting PrEP could have a game-changing impact, improving choice and making HIV prevention a more viable option for more people,” he said.
However, cautioned Mr. Verhoosel, the high cost of the injection – believed to be around US $20,000 a year for wealthy nations – would be prohibitive elsewhere, so “adequate and affordable supply must be ensured so people everywhere can benefit without delay.”