Shortly before my 28th birthday, I discovered that a friend of mine was HIV positive. He wasn’t a very close friend, but I knew him quite well and it came as a shock to me because he was well educated, intelligent and financially established in the world, and I believed that people like him did not get HIV. I couldn’t understand how someone like that could be “dumb” enough to have unprotected sex. In the nineties almost every gay movie I could get my hands on was about gay men struggling with HIV or AIDS. How could he not have known to wear a condom? It was constantly drummed into us.
The Anova Health Institute, the lead organisation addressing HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in South Africa, welcomes the announcement of exciting developments regarding HIV prevention at the 2015 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections. The conference is currently taking place in Seattle, Washington.
Researchers have confirmed the results of an earlier randomised trial and presented unequivocal evidence that the use of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can be used as a reliable biomedical HIV prevention strategy by MSM when taken in advance of potential exposure to the virus. Referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), such use of specific ARVs allows men to use chronic medication to prevent becoming HIV positive.
The findings relate specifically to MSM following the early completion of two studies, in France and England respectively, that provide dramatic proof of the efficacy of PrEP among the key population. In both of these studies, men were protected against HIV infection while taking the drugs, with a reduction in risk of over 80%. Significantly, the studies also demonstrated that men, who requested access to PrEP, were able to manage the treatment successfully, including necessary adherence.
Professor James McIntyre, Chief Executive Officer of the Anova Health Institute, hailed the announcement: “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. 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.”
Anova’s Dr Kevin Rebe played an active role in developing guidelines for the use of PrEP among MSM, both locally with the South African Clinicians Society and internationally as a reviewer of the World Health Organisation’s 2014 PrEP guidelines. Rebe says: “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.”
McIntyre added that the South African Department of Health 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. Significantly, 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.”