New ARV could lead to weight-gain but there are fewer side-effects

SA professor Linda-Gail Bekker addresses the 2019 International Aids Conference in Mexico City. 
Image: International Aids Society conference

SA study makes waves at International Aids Conference

People in sub-Saharan Africa contract HIV between the ages of 24 and 29, with women most likely to get it aged 20 to 24 and men, 25 to 29.

Scientists studied 180 couples, who were believed to have infected each other. They  studied the genetics of the HIV virus, who infected who and how the virus changed. They worked out when and how those involved in the study contracted HIV.

The results were announced at the International Aids Conference in Mexico City.

Establishing at what age people contract the virus improves prevention efforts.

“These results confirm that young people contribute disproportionately to HIV transmission in sub-Saharan Africa, especially 25- to 29-year-old men, suggesting an urgent need to scale up testing and treatment programmes aimed at this demographic,” said the conference press release.

Held every two years, the conference is the world’s largest.

It featured a study conducted in Yeoville and Hillbrow by the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, led by Professor Francois Venter.

The study, called Advance, tested a new ARV drug, Dolutegravir, to be rolled out in SA in September in the public sector. It is cheaper and harder to develop resistance to.

The drug was investigated because scientists have to ensure it is at least as good as current ARV treatment, as changing medication will affect millions of people living with HIV.

However, the study found that the drug could lead to weight-gain.

Venter explained that Dolutegravir’s use abroad had shown it had fewer side-effects and very low rates of resistance to it.

This is important, as there has long been concern about “rising transmitted drug resistance” in SA to ARVs, explained the Wits press release.

Rising drug resistance to HIV means people need more expensive, new ARV drugs or they die from Aids. If people contract drug-resistant HIV, they are also unresponsive to treatment from day one.

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