PPRETORIA, 12 November 2020 – The South African National AIDS Council (SANAC) welcomes the two scientific breakthroughs in response to HIV prevention and coronavirus vaccination this week. One being the long-acting injectable HIV prevention drug and the second being the vaccine candidate with 90% success rate against COVID-19 infection.
The injectable drug, cabotegravir, emerged from the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN-084) clinical trial implemented by the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) in South Africa. The trial included more than three thousand (3000) cisgender women at risk of HIV from Sub-Saharan African countries inclusive of Botswana, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Swaziland and South Africa among others. A single injection provides discrete protection from HIV infection for up to 8 weeks in the body.
Women in Sub-Saharan Africa continue to be amongst the most marginalized in the world due to religious, cultural and patriarchal practices that are deeply entrenched into the social fabric of Sub-Saharan Africa. Most women in these communities have little or no power to negotiate for safer sex; therefore, a wide-range of HIV prevention options that are available discretely at their disposal is critical. HIV prevention commodities are largely biased towards men and this recent development changes the narrative.
On the COVID-19 response front, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they have a vaccine candidate which, early data shows, prevents 90% of COVID-19 infections. An impressive drug efficacy level that emerged from a study that featured close to 40 thousand participants from diverse backgrounds. This is comforting news as the world continues to battle the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Responding to these developments, SANAC CEO Dr. Thembisile Xulu says, “This has indeed been an exciting week in the world of science. The timing is great as we continue to explore ways of integrating HIV and COVID-19 response efforts. As a country, we are not doing well on HIV prevention goals so we welcome the news of the long-acting cabotegravir injection – it is among the best HIV prevention news to date. The two-monthly HIV prevention injection could also be a game-changer if it is combined with the two-monthly pregnancy prevention injection. There is a lot of research to explore the combination of long-acting contraceptives with long-acting HIV prevention drugs. These developments are important because they would truly allow women to hold the power over their bodies,” said Dr. Xulu.
SANAC hereby congratulates the research entities that spearheaded the two trials – with a special recognition for South African scientists participating in these studies. Their endeavours contribute immensely to the HIV Prevention Revolution Agenda and they provide a glimmer of hope in the world’s quest to defeat the raging coronavirus pandemic.
Once these drugs have been subjected to the various approval protocols, SANAC will continue to use its muscle to lobby for their rollout in public health facilities to ensure equal access for all, especially to key and vulnerable populations.
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