STORY: HIV Antiviral Injection - UNITAID
TRT: 3 min 44 s
SOURCE: UNTV CH
ASPECT RATIO: 16:9
DATELINE: 18 March 2022 GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
Gamechanger HIV injection rolls out in South Africa and Brazil
The first injection to offer long-lasting protection against HIV is being rolled out in South Africa and Brazil, as an alternative to daily medication.
UN agency UNITAID announced the groundbreaking development on Friday, which it is hoped will boost HIV prevention worldwide.
Developed by ViiV (pronounced VEEV) Healthcare and approved by the US health authority, the injection offers two months of protection against HIV. Its active ingredient is cabotegravir.
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.
The reasons for this include that 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,” Mr. Verhoosel told journalists in Geneva.
But he cautioned that the high cost of the injection – believed to be around $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”.
In Brazil, UNITAID is supporting long-acting cabotegravir injections among transgender communities – 30 per cent of whom live with HIV - and men who have sex with men (18 per cent).
In South Africa, the target population is adolescent girls and young women, who are infected “at a disproportionately high rate”, the UN agency said.
“In sub-Saharan Africa, six in seven new HIV infections in adolescents occur among girls, and young women are twice as likely to be living with HIV as their male peers,” it noted.
In a related development on Friday, UNAIDS congratulated Zimbabwe for decriminalizing HIV transmission.
“Public health goals are not served by denying people their individual rights and I commend Zimbabwe for taking this hugely important step,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima. “This decision strengthens the HIV response in Zimbabwe by reducing the stigma and discrimination that too often prevents vulnerable groups of people from receiving HIV prevention, care and treatment services.”
Ms. Byanyima’s comments followed the Zimbabwean Parliament’s decision to repeal section 79 of the Criminal Law Code on HIV transmission.
In its place President Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to sign into law a new marriage bill adopted by Parliament.
According to UNAIDS, Zimbabwe has made great progress in the response to HIV over the past decade.
It is estimated that 1.2 million of the 1.3 million people living with HIV in the country are now on life-saving medicines. AIDS-related deaths have decreased by 63 per cent since 2010, with new HIV infections down by 66 per cent over the same period.