As the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns affected the fight against HIV/AIDS in the African continent, South Africa has successfully tested injectable cabotegravir (CAB-LA) to prevent HIV/AIDS infections.
Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency coinciding the World AIDS Day, which is being observed on Wednesday, Foster Mohale, spokesman of South Africa’s Health Ministry, said his country intends to introduce injectable prevention methods to expand the prevention options.
These included the injectable form of pre-exposure prophylaxis and cabotegravir (CAB-LA).
Mohale said during testing they have shown substantial prevention benefits in homosexuals and transgenders.
He said South Africa at the moment is awaiting the WHO pre-approval and recommendation for use of CAB-LA as an HIV/AIDS prevention intervention.
The country is also awaiting registration by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
Mohale said his ministry would look at the affordability and other issues after the approval.
Despite facing a double challenge of having the highest number of COVID-19 infections and HIV/AIDS patients, Mohale said South Africa is conducting several campaigns and studies to reduce HIV/AIDS infection such as the drive to scale up the intake of prophylaxis, drugs given to people exposed or at risk of acquiring the deadly virus.
“South Africa still has the largest antiretroviral treatment (ART) program with over 5.5 million patients on ART. The country has adopted the test and treat program since 2016, therefore those who are found to be positive are put immediately on ART,’’ Mohale told Anadolu Agency.
The country has also scaled up the distribution of condoms to both males and females, including ensuring their availability.
Admitting that the COVID-19 pandemic did threaten to reverse the gains made to combat HIV/AIDS, he said despite challenges health workers were sending messages to patients who had not come to facilities for their appointments.
“There has been tracing of lost (clients/patients) to follow up through tracing teams,’’ he said, adding that some patients were advised to pick their drugs at the various pick-up points established by the health department.
South Africa which remains the epicenter of HIV/AIDS infections with a 7.7 million infected population also faced the highest number of COVID-19 infections in the continent.
According to the US-based Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, South Africa reported 2.9 million cases with 89,822 deaths.
- Shortage of vaccines
A report by the UN Program on HIV/AIDS or UNAIDS earlier this week said Sub-Saharan Africa, which is home to two-thirds (67%) of people living with HIV/AIDS still faces shortages of COVID-19 vaccines that can protect them.
“In July 2021, less than 3% of people in Africa had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine,’’ it said.
It admitted that lockdowns and other restrictions disrupted HIV/AIDS testing and, in many countries, lead to steep drops in diagnoses and referrals to treatment.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria – an international financing and partnership organization – which has collected data from 32 African and Asian countries has reported that HIV/AIDS testing declined by 41% and referrals for diagnosis and treatment declined by 37% during the first COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, compared with the same period in 2019.