Sculpture of the red AIDS ribbon against a black background.
Regular use of preventative drugs can reduce HIV transmission significantly. (Photo Credit: CC BY/Jayel Aheram/Flickr)

Three breakthrough studies conducted in the African nations of Kenya, Uganda and Botswana indicate that when heterosexual partners of people infected with AIDS or HIV take preventative drugs daily, it can cut the chance of transmitting HIV by 62 to 73 percent. According to the Washington Post, the results from the studies provide the strongest evidence to date that millions of lives can be saved through the regular use of currently available medication.

Heterosexual African couples will benefit

In the 30-year history of the AIDS pandemic, health records indicate that heterosexual men and women on the African continent have been the group  most affected by the disease. The African studies, which focused on the use of two “pre-exposure prophylaxis” (PrEP) drugs daily, produced such dramatic results in Kenya and Uganda that those studies were stopped a year and a half early. In Botswana, the study involving regular use of the standard antiretroviral regimen continued as scheduled.

More medication needed in Africa

Dr. Jared Baeten, a University of Washington physician who co-directed the Kenya and Uganda studies, recognizes the urgency of the findings, as two-thirds of the world’s 34 million HIV sufferers live in sub-Saharan Africa but only 6.6 million are taking the necessary AIDS drugs.

“These results are fundamentally important for HIV prevention, especially in Africa,” he said.

The logistics of making more antiretrovirals available aren’t lost on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Dr. Lynn Paxton, leader of the Botswana study.

“Our biggest challenge now is how do we move from research to getting things out to the general public where they’re most needed,” said Paxton.

Partners PrEP for the worst

Baeten’s study, called “Partners PrEP,” incorporated 4,758 heterosexual couples from nine different locations. One member of each couple bore an HIV infection. The uninfected partners were given drugs such as tenofovir, by itself or in combination with emtricitabine, sold as Truvada. A placebo was also used. Condoms and counseling on how to avoid HIV infection were provided.

Compared with the placebo group, the rate of HIV transmission in the study dropped by 62 percent with tenofovir and 73 percent with Truvada.

Botswana: Truvada or placebo

In Botswana, 1,219 heterosexual men and women took either Truvada or a placebo pill. The former group experienced a 63 percent reduction in HIV transmission, but side effects like nausea and dizziness were much more common.

Success at 97 percent usages or better

The key to suppressing HIV transmission in the studies was participants being consistent and rarely missing their doses of AIDS drugs. Beaten’s study had a 97 percent on-time rate, while participants in the CDC study in Botswana kept up with the medication regimen 84 percent of the time.

Living with HIV



Washington Post:

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