Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Researchers will in December enroll the first participants in a clinical trial in which they are testing the effectiveness of a new HIV drug, Lenacapavir in protecting people against the virus.
This study will be conducted in four districts of Mityana, Masaka, Hoima and Kalangala for a period of six years. According to Dr. Flavia Matovu Kiweewa, a researcher based at the Makerere University-Johns Hopkins University Research Collaboration, participants will be receiving an injection every after six months.
In addition to the injection which has also been trailed as treatment among the HIV positive, volunteers who are young women and adolescent girls will have to take a daily pill of an equally new drug, Descovy which was only approved for use internationally as a Pre Exposure Prophylaxis-PrEP recently.
In Masaka, she says they have already done an initiating survey to establish the HIV incidence levels whose results will be released officially in November, but they saw high prevalence that she partly attributes to COVID-19 pandemic interruptions.
If found effective, the researcher says it will be a great addition to the HIV prevention tools as there is already oral PrEP and the vaginal ring approved for use in women. She says with oral PrEP, they are finding challenges with uptake including consistent use and stigma especially that the same drugs are used and at times picked from similar health facilities like for the HIV positive.
However, while a number of prevention methods have been tried here before being rolled out elsewhere, Uganda still lags in terms of adoption of even the earliest oral PrEP which was approved for use more than five years ago.
Dr. Herbert Kadama, the coordinator of PrEP in the Ministry of Health says they are only providing the drugs through donor funding even as they estimate use of PrEP can help them avert up to 9,000 new infections. The country recorded 38,000 new infections in 2020.
According to Kadama, about 150,000 people have enrolled for PrEP at the 260 sites designated throughout the country having been adopted for use in 2016. He says most of their clients are sex workers. But they are not consistently using their treatment.
Meanwhile, the criteria used for enrolling people into PrEP include anyone who has used Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) for more than three times, those with multiple sex partners and if one has been treating recurrent sexually transmitted infections in a year.
Researchers say PrEP is the best option for Uganda where a huge number of young women and girls are still getting infected and yet many cannot negotiate consistent condom use.