Introduction of HIV prevention pills being streamlined
-Cost of pills significantly reduced – says SASOD Managing Director
The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has initiated a study that would guide efforts to pursue the option of introducing an antiretroviral medication to prevent the contraction of HIV among vulnerable male homosexuals.
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has affected the Guyanese population, with the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) recording 8500 Guyanese living with HIV in 2016. Male homosexuals have been a vulnerable demographic.
Managing Director of SASOD, Joel Simpson told News Room recently, “We’ve just gotten a small grant from the International HIV/AIDS Alliance, Rapid Response fund to conduct a study among men who have sex with men in Regions 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10 – five of the 10 regions- about their knowledge and attitudes towards PrEP.”
He further disclosed, “We’re trying to assess what people know about PReP in the community particularly among men who have sex with men.” Starting with a small, yet at-risk community, the study seeks to ascertain whether there is a demand for PrEP.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is the antiretroviral pill SASOD is seeking to introduce. It is a combination pill of two HIV medications (tenofovir and emtricitabine) commonly used daily–alongside other measures, such as condoms–for HIV prevention. The pill, under the brand name of Truvada, has been recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO, “… people at substantial risk of HIV infection should be offered PrEP as an additional prevention choice, as part of comprehensive prevention.”
Having already submitted a request for approval for the study from the Ethics Review Board of the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), which is chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, Simpson highlighted that SASOD is expecting a favourable response by the end of May.
The study is a qualitative one that only involves interviewing people to garner their knowledge and opinions and thus, approval for the study should not be a fuss, according to Simpson.
“We think that’s (going) to be a very important study to present to the National AIDS Programme as they are also asking for data to support the advocacy with the policy makers for PrEP,” Simpson said.
He explained that sister Caribbean nations- Bahamas and Barbados – have already introduced the pill.
In January this year, at a SASOD press conference, Simpson had said that before the drug is introduced, a demonstration project would be a prerequisite.
Leaning on the initiation of the drug in the two Caribbean countries and in other countries around the world, Simpson noted, “With similar conditions, we think that kind of study is less and less important and it’s proven to be effective all over the world in all kinds of different contexts.”
Making the entire process of initiating the pills easier is the fact that the pills can now be purchased at significantly lower cost. This is because the United States patent which gave American biopharmaceutical company, Gilead exclusive rights to Truvada, has expired.
“So what that means, is that you don’t have to get that drug from Gilliard, you can get cheaper generics which as being made all over the world,” the Director explained.
“The cost is significantly less now and you can get generics much cheaper than having to buy from Gilead.”
Simpson had previously estimated that it would cost approximately US $75,000 to supply Truvada to 100 persons.