Researchers have presented unequivocal evidence that antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can be used as a reliable HIV prevention strategy by men who have sex with men (MSM).
While ARVs are traditionally used to treat people who are HIV positive, certain ARVs can also be used to prevent HIV negative men from becoming infected, a method referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
The latest findings relate to the completion of two major studies in France and England that confirmed that the use of PrEP protects MSM against HIV infection, with a reduction in risk of 86%.
The researchers also demonstrated that the men in the studies were able to manage the treatment successfully, including the necessary adherence to ensure the medication’s effectiveness.
The findings were presented on Tuesday at the 2015 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections taking place in Seattle, Washington.
The Anova Health Institute, the leading organisation addressing HIV among MSM across South Africa through its Health4Men programme, welcomed the news.
“We revel in this development which heralds an exciting and bold new era in HIV prevention for MSM, a population at particular risk of both acquiring and transmitting the virus,” said Professor James McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer of the Anova Health Institute.
“Being able to prevent MSM becoming infected through a biomedical intervention will have an exponential impact of the epidemic among this key population by providing a buffer to the cycle of transmission,” he added.
Anova’s Dr Kevin Rebe, who played an active role in developing guidelines for the use of PrEP among MSM, both locally and internationally, also praised the results of the research.
“PrEP is a vital addition to the package of prevention options available to MSM. We are very excited about the new study results and are looking forward to providing PrEP as part of effective combined prevention interventions,” he said.
PrEP is not currently offered by the Department of Health, but this could soon change, noted McIntyre. He explained that the department has already expressed interest in exploring PrEP as a reliable HIV prevention strategy targeting MSM.
“We know that PrEP works, this can no longer be questioned and we are engaging with the Department in this regard,” he said.
McIntyre also revealed that Anova’s Health4Men initiative has received funding from the Elton John AIDS Foundation to implement and review a limited rollout of PrEP among MSM in Cape Town, in partnership with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation.