25 Cents to Save a Life?
Two studies conducted in Sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya, Uganda and Botswana) suggest that antiretroviral medicine can play an essential role in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS.
Scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle recruited 4758 serodiscordant couples – meaning that only one partner carries the virus. On a daily basis, participants either took an anti-HIV drug or a placebo pill. In the group taking either the treatments Tenofovir or Truvada, the infection rate was lowered by 68% compared to the group taking placebos.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, a Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, called the turnout of the studies a “major scientific breakthrough.”
In effect, researchers were so impressed by their results that they halted the trials prematurely. The cited New Scientist article states ethical reasons for their decision to not carry on with the studies, and to offer the drugs to the members from the placebo group who had been exposed to a much higher risk of infection during the process.
In many countries, both medicaments are generically available and only cost 25 US cents per tablet. With about 34 million people worldwide infected but only half of them knowing their status, prevention strategies that contain the virus’ spreading are urgently needed, and not only for serodiscordant couples. The results also give hope that pills might protect women as successfully as men, something that seemed unlikely in the past.
Supporting results were obtained in a similar study that was organized by the US Centers for Disease Control and the Botswana Ministry of Health. The data were recently introduced at the International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis in Rome, Italy. Subsequent discussion will also have to focus on whether access to the drugs should be expanded, thus concentrating more on prevention than on simply supplying those already infected.
Insiders calculate that expansion of the treatment could help save 7.4 million lives by 2020.
Image HIV by AJC1 on Flickr, Courtesy of Creative Commons LicensingTweet