20 June 2012

Uganda: 'Truvada Is Not HIV Vaccine'

Photo: Gilead
A new HIV prevention drug Truvada has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Scientists in Uganda have dismissed reports that an HIV vaccine has been found.

The reports follow the US-based Food and Drug Administration's approval of the anti-retroviral drug Truvada as a preventive measure against the transmission of HIV. Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute in Entebbe, says Truvada is not an HIV vaccine but an anti-retroviral drug.

"No HIV vaccine has yet been discovered. There are, however, ongoing studies and efforts to discover a vaccine," Kaleebu said.

Truvada has been shown to reduce risk of infection by up to 42% in gay and bisexual men and 75% in heterosexual couples according to the AIDS Research Alliance. Dr Patrick Ndase, the Ugandan HIV prevention research expert at the University of Washington, says Truvada is an anti-retroviral agent that has been in use for HIV treatment since 2004. It is one of the first line of drugs for HIV treatment in several countries in Africa.

"It most certainly is not a vaccine. The concept studied is the use of an anti-retroviral drug for HIV prevention similar to the approach used for prevention of mother-to-child transmission," he said.

"There is no vaccine and clearly no clear timeframe can even be put to hopes of ever getting a vaccine against HIV, but the hope is alive."

The scientists say that Truvada does not offer 100% protection against HIV and may encourage risky behaviour. For Truvada to give some measure of protection, an HIV negative person would have to take it daily, something that is difficult even for people who take part in vaccine and drug trials.

Since it was first detected, HIV/ Aids has killed more than a million Ugandans, with an estimated 2.3 million living with the virus, according to the Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey released this year by the ministry of Health. Only anti-retroviral drugs are available for people living with HIV/Aids but of the 570,000 people eligible, only 320,000 access them.

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