Antiretroviral prophylaxis: a defining moment in HIV control

According to an editorial by Salim Abdool Karim in the Lancet  a defining moment in the global AIDS response has been reached. The discourse is no longer about HIV prevention or HIV treatment; it is now about HIV control through the implementation of antiretroviral treatments as key components of combination interventions.

Barely a year ago, visions of HIV control would have been considered far-fetched. The impetus for this change in mindset, which has been building since the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna last year, emanates from the compelling evidence that antiretroviral drugs prevent HIV infection in the general heterosexual population, which is released this week and presented at the 6th International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Rome by the Partners PrEP and Botswana TDF2 trials.

The Partners PrEP trial, involving 4758 HIV discordant couples from Kenya and Uganda, found that daily oral tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF) and TDF-emtricitabine reduced HIV transmission by 62% and 73%, respectively. The Bostwana TDF2 trial, in 1200 heterosexual men and women from the general population, found that daily oral TDF-emtricitabine reduced HIV transmission by 63%.

Both these are of a similar order of magnitude to that seen with male circumcision and is probably caused by a significant reduction of HIV in the genital tract.

see fig 1 for comparison between different prevension strategies

Several issues were raised by the authors that need further research. There is now no doubt that antiretroviral drugs prevent HIV infection. However, important scientific questions remain. Does the inclusion of emtricitabine in pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) formulations provide sufficient additional benefit to warrant the additional costs and side-effects? Are levels of effectiveness and safety similar for daily use and use-with-sex of PrEP? Do the safety, effectiveness, cost, and acceptability profiles of oral and topical PrEP merit implementation of both formulations? Does PrEP lead to masking of HIV acquisition that is then revealed once PrEP is withdrawn?

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