Massive study seeks HIV prevention

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Treating people with HIV soon after they become infected is cost-effective over the long term, according to a study that focused on South Africa and India. Picture: Matthew Jordaan

Cape Town - More than a million people in the Western Cape will be taking part in a new international study aimed at finding the best method for preventing the spread of HIV and Aids in South Africa.

The World Health Organisation estimates that just under 360 000 South Africans a year die of Aids-related illness, making the country an ideal place to test a combination of several HIV intervention and prevention methods.

The study is being led by the HIV Prevention Trials Network, a global team of clinics. It will involve 21 selected communities in the Western Cape and Zambia and will be conducted by a range of local and international organisations.

Nine of these communities are in Cape Town and include Delft, Khayelitsha and Simon’s Town.

The communities involved in the study were randomly assigned to one of three groups in a public ceremony in Cape Town earlier this year.

The first group of seven communities will be offered the Network’s new prevention package.

This package will include house-to-house voluntary testing at annual intervals and free HIV health care and education for infected people.

It will also promote voluntary medical circumcision for uninfected men, take steps to prevent mother-to-child transmission, provide free condoms and refer those with symptoms suggestive of tuberculosis or sexually transmitted infections for diagnosis and care by a health centre.

The second group will receive the same treatment, but this will be initiated in line with the government’s national guidelines on HIV and Aids prevention.

The third group will serve as a control.

The control group will continue with the national policy for HIV and Aids prevention, which includes free access to contraception and antiretroviral medication.

The Network said that to measure the impact of each intervention, a representative sample of 2 500 adults would be recruited from each of the communities.

Each sample would be monitored and tested over the following three years.

“The occurrence of new HIV infection within these communities will be compared among the three groups to determine the effect of our (prevention plan).”

Dr Wafaa El-Sadr, the Network’s principal investigator, said the findings of the study would show whether the alternative prevention method would work in South Africa and whether it would be financially viable to adopt it as part of the national policy.

The City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member for health, Lungiswa James, welcomed the landmark study.

City staff would scale up services in the relevant health facilities to accommodate the research, James said.

Upgrades to clinics, as well as the employment of more staff, have been made possible through the research’s sizeable budget. - Cape Argus

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