Drug to prevent HIV now available in South Africa

South Africans who have risky sex can take a pill to prevent them getting HIV‚ after the pill known as Truvada was approved by the Medicines Control Council.

The control council said on Tuesday it had approved the drug at a recent November meeting. It is already used in combination with another antiretroviral (ARV) as treatment for HIV‚ but has not been licensed legally for prevention.


The drug which prevents HIV works up to 100% of the time if taken daily was approved as prevention by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2012.

The prevention pill has faced opposition in the US from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation which said it encouraged gay men to become promiscuous. The foundation called the gay men who used the drug “Truvada Whores”. The same foundation flew to South Africa to campaign against the drug at the Durban June Aids conference saying Africans would not take it properly.

But now South Africans can prove them wrong because their doctors can prescribe the drug as prevention.

Aspen applied to the Medicines Control Council for the use of the drug as prevention in December 2013. It has taken two years to be approved.

Deputy Director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Professor Linda Gail Bekker has campaigned for the licensing of the drug because she says it is cheaper and better to prevent HIV infection especially in high risk groups such as young women‚ sex workers and gay and bisexual men.

She praised the annoucement: “Adding Truvada to the arsenal of tools available to battle HIV is a major step forward for South Africa. We are at a critical time and must be really serious about reducing new infections in all populations‚ especially those who are young and particularly vulnerable to infection.

“Our next step is to support the Department of Health to quickly figure out the best way to make Truvada available to those most at-risk for HIV infection. Turning off the tap to new infections is a maximum investment for the future of South Africa.”

The drug is not freely available as prevention in the state sector. It is also not clear yet‚ if medical aids will pay for its use as prevention in high risk individuals.

Truvada has been used in South Africa with doctors prescribing it ” off label” for use as prevention but now that it is legally registered for prevention‚ it would be easier to prescribe to more people at high risk of HIV.

Two trials‚ one French and one in Britain‚ tested the drug with gay men using it “on demand” when they had sex. Both trials‚ PROUD and Ipergay‚ were stopped early last year. This was because the trials showed the pills to be so effective in preventing HIV even when only taken four times weekly that it became unethical to continue the trials. In a trial‚ one group gets a placebo (sugar pill) while another group gets the real drug.

When it is immediately obvious that the drug works‚ the trial ethics committees halts the trial and participants using placebo are offered the real medicine.