Thursday, July 19, 2012
Truvada only approved for treatment of HIV - Chikusu
By Kombe Chimpinde
Thu 19 July 2012, 12:40 CAT
DEPUTY Minister of Health Dr Patrick Chikusu says the drug, Truvada, has only been approved for treatment of HIV and not prevention in Zambia.
Responding to a question on the groundbreaking approval of use of the drug to prevent HIV for the first time, Dr Chikusu said proper studies and guidelines were required before the government and HIV-based organisations could encourage people to utilise the drug.
The BBC on Tuesday quoted the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) saying Truvada can be used by those at high risk of infection and anyone who might engage in sexual activity with HIV-infected partners.
According to the BBC, studies showed that the drug reduced the risk of contracting HIV by up to 73 per cent and that the drug is approved in the UK for the treatment of HIV, but not prevention.
The BBC stated that some health workers and groups active in the HIV community had, however, opposed a green light for the once-daily pill.
There have been concerns the circulation of such a drug could engender a false sense of security and many people will take more risks. There have also been fears that a drug-resistant strain of HIV could develop.
Truvada, made by California-based Gilead Sciences, is already backed by the FDA to be taken with existing antiretroviral drugs for people who have HIV.
Studies from 2010 showed that Truvada reduced the risk of HIV in healthy gay men - and among HIV-negative heterosexual partners of HIV-positive people - by between 44 per cent and 73 per cent.
Dr Chikusu said the drug was being used in Zambia especially to curb mother-to-child transmission of HIV to suppress the viral load in the mother's blood, thereby reducing the chances of transmission.
"The viral load comes down, while the CD4 is at the right count. The transmission there, comes to zero. This is also what we have found in a mother-child treatment; when we put the mother right from the start on treatment. So we are looking at the (suppressing) viral load and antiretroviral therapy," Dr Chikusu said.
"It is used for treatment, it suppresses the virus, but only when taken at the right time, for instance not less than 72 hours of the period after having sexual intercourse, it's completely prevented. The advantage for those who are infected is when the viral load is suppressed, TB and other related diseases is definitely out."
He said the government was concerned that the drug would be on the bus stops soon.
"Many who feel they have compromised themselves or if they just slept with a sex worker and they are not sure, they can take the drug at the expense of other safer alternative methods such as condoms, circumcision and abstinence," Dr Chikusu said.
"The question and problem could be if there is resistance; do we have a fallback? So that has to be taken a bit more carefully."
He said his ministry was making inquiries on how best to utilise the drug in addition to other existing alternatives for both treatment and prevention.
"We are trying to find a way to roll it, which will also detect the various resistance forms. Right now any medication must be regulated," said Dr Chikusu.
The treatment costs about US$ 15,000 a year.