New anti-HIV injection study targets young women in SA

A woman next to a mirror holds up a red Aids ribbon made of wire and beads.

Picture: Shelley Kjonstad/ Independent Newspapers Archives

Published Mar 6, 2024


A anti-HIV injection, which aims to keep women safe from HIV exposure for up to two months, is being used in a study conducted by the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa).

Participants in the study, which has targeted young women in the 18-30 age group, will take an injection called Cabotegravir.

Almost 1 000 women from two sites in KwaZulu-Natal and one in Zambia have been enrolled in the study.

“In South Africa, young women between 18 and 25 carry the greatest burden of the disease, with persistent high HIV incidence and prevalence,” Caprisa said on its website.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and the director of Caprisa, said there were about 1.3 million new HIV infections worldwide and about half of these infections continued to occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

“There’s no question that we desperately need to do better in terms of prevention and one of the ways to do better is to use pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP),” Abdool Karim said in an interview on SAfm.

He said PrEP was a medication, such as an antiretroviral, that was taken to prevent infection when someone was exposed to HIV.

Abdool Karim said a PrEP drug called Truvada was already available in the form of tablets taken daily. He said the problem was that people found it difficult to take the drug every day.

“We are trying to find better ways to provide PrEP and a two-monthly injectable offers exactly that kind of option,” he said.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim said there were other new drugs that would last up to six months.

The company who makes the injection has provided it to South Africa for another study after it was found to have a 66% efficacy rate in gay men in the US and other countries in 2021. A few months later it was shown to be effective in women in Africa.

“Cabotegravir is formulated as an injectable, so you get it as a bolus dose put into your muscles and from there it releases into your body over time,” he said, adding that therapeutic levels are achieved in terms of protection for about two months.

Abdool Karim said there were other new drugs that would last up to six months.

“This field is rapidly moving and we are very hopeful that long-acting PrEP will become an everyday thing that people can take,” he added.

Director of the Rural Health Advocacy Project (RHAP), Russell Rensburg, said in reaction to the study that the limitation would be the cost involved, which would constrain the country’s ability to implement the injection at scale should it be released for use in the country.

“That being said, as incidence of HIV among young women remains a challenge, the injection would be much better than taking daily pills and it could improve uptake,” he said.

Rensburg said to ensure increased uptake of sexual reproductive health services, the responsiveness of the primary health care services to the needs of young people needed to improve.

“We can do this by expanding service channels including private and community pharmacies,” he said.

The Mercury