Wits RHI announces breakthrough results for HIV prevention in women

Optimism in fight against the virus as Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Research Institute announces pivotal trial results

The trial spearheaded by the HIV Prevention Trial Network (HPTN), compared cabotegravir - a long-acting antiretroviral administered as a two-monthly injection with the orally administered combination of tenofovir and emtricitabine in an attempt to prevent infections. Called HPTN 804, the pivotal trial found the cabotegravir injection to be 89% more effective at preventing HIV infection in women when compared to the control arm.

With women disproportionally bearing the HIV infection burden across sub-Saharan Africa and accounting for more than half of new infections, the results are seen as a breakthrough for HIV prevention in women across the continent. Though the oral regimen was previously found to be almost 100% effective at preventing infections if taken daily, the stigma surrounding HIV serves as an impediment to compliance with the daily dosing, thus making a long-acting injectable a worthwhile alternative.

The trial enrolled 3,223 HIV negative women across South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, eSwatini, Malawi, Kenya and Zimbabwe. Over a two-year period, only 38 women participating contracted the virus. Of these, only four were in the cabotegravir arm while the remaining 34 were in the tenofovir + emtricitabine control arm. The figures suggest a 0.21% rate of new infections in the injectable arm - a remarkable finding in comparison to the 1.79% rate for the oral arm.