• Vol. 41 No. 12, 595–601
  • 15 December 2012

Biomedical Strategies for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Prevention? A New Paradigm



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Introduction: This article presents recent developments in biomedical interventions for prevention of sexual transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.

Materials and Methods: A review of results from randomised clinical trials on the use of antiretroviral (ARV) medications and other biomedical methods to prevent the transmission and acquisition of HIV infection.

Results: Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) refers to the provision of ARV medications to uninfected persons at high risk of HIV infection either in the form of topical agents, e.g. vaginal microbicide gels, or orally administered tablets. The Caprissa study demonstrated the efficacy of vaginal microbicides, the Vaginal and Oral Interventions to Control the Epidemic (VOICE) study however was not able to confirm these results. Oral PrEP was found to be efficacious in the iPrEx study on men who have sex with men (MSM), and among heterosexual couples in the Partners-PrEP and the TDF2 studies in Africa. The HPTN 052 trial demonstrated that the provision of early ARV treatment was able to prevent transmission of HIV by 92% compared with delayed treatment. This has led to enthusiasm to roll out treatment as prevention (TasP) programmes. Encouraging results from studies on male circumcision to prevent HIV acquisition have resulted in several implementation projects in Africa. Another encouraging result has been the success, albeit modest, of the prime-boost combination RV144 vaccine trial in Thailand.

Conclusion: New advances in prevention strategies are urgently needed to slow down the HIV pandemic. Recent developments particularly in the form of PrEP and TasP have given new hope that we will be able to achieve this goal.

The first 30 years of the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) pandemic will be remembered by the way individuals, communities, nations and organisations rallied to put an end the relentless spread of the infection and the death and suffering that it brought. Soon after it was described in gay communities in 1981 in the United States (US) and other parts of the developed world, epidemiologists suspected that the causative agent was likely to be spread through sexual intercourse. Reports of cases among heterosexuals in Africa lent credence to this hypothesis. The finding of AIDS among recipients of blood and blood products, among intravenous drug users and paediatric infections pointed to blood borne spread. Much has been accomplished in these 30 years, including the discovery of the causative agent, development of diagnostic assays, elucidation of the life cycle of HIV, and understanding the pathogenesis of the HIV infection and AIDS.

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