The Botswana Network of AIDS Service Organizations (BONASO) organized an orientation session on HIV and AIDS New Prevention Technologies (NPT) for a different cluster of Community-based organizations (CBOs) and Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the Ngamiland District, on June 26, 2007 at Maun.
Speaking at the workshop, BONASO Programmes Coordinator, Mr Matong Danny Matong, stated that the objective of the workshop was to inform and sensitize participants about new emerging HIV Prevention Technologies (HPT) such as vaccines, microbicides and male circumcision. It also seek to highlight the process of research within Botswana, the region and globally on emerging NPT issues and how beneficial they could be, especially to vulnerable groups such as women, sex workers and young people.
Matong said that they wanted to link participants with existing expanded preventions as well as those that are being researched on treatment access initiatives.
BONASO conducted this orientation session in collaboration with development partners such as the Botswana/United States of America (BOTUSA) partnership, Botswana Harvard Partnership (BHP) and Maun Hospital. He pointed out that the initiatives were part of an ongoing process to scale up HIV Prevention along side expanded treatment through AfriCASO.
Addressing the participants on commonly used forms of AIDS prevention, Ms Masedi, from Maun Hospital, stated that prevention strategies should always involve people living with HIV/AIDS since it is easier for people to understand them better. She said support groups should forge partnerships and work together so that they could speak the same language.
She encouraged the participants to abstain and delay the age at which they have their first sex. Though it is not always possible to be faithful, she urged participants to be faithful to their partners and to always use a condom so as to prevent new infections.
“It is not easy to trust a person, but it has to start with an individual, and
when two people meet, it can be easy to trust each other. People should also try to change their behaviour,” she said.
Dr Rodreck Mutanhaurwa of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) addressed participants on research conducted in Francistown and Maun, Botswana, by using Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) Oral Prophylaxis Trial (TDF2 study) Truvada, which is a combination of two ARVs being Tenofovir and Emtricitabine.
“We need a new tool to fight HIV,” he said.
Mutanhaurwa stated that BOTUSA was conducting clinical trials to see if this drug could prevent HIV infection.
He said the reason why this drug is tested in Botswana is because of an urgent need for additional HIV preventive measures while awaiting effective vaccines and microbicides.
He stated that the reason why this drug is being tested in young people of between ages 18 ÔÇô 29 years is because HIV prevalence is basically high within this group.
The study enrolls HIV uninfected participants and its design involves a randomized Placebo-controlled trial where 50 percent receive Truvada while others receive placebo (sugar pill).
“In studies with monkeys, which are the only animals close to human beings, Truvada was found to be effective in preventing HIV infection,”, he stated.
According to Mutanhaurwa, the participants are provided with supportive counseling and education as well as viral load and CD4 testing, are offered assistance with disclosure if desired, and appointments at HIV care screening clinic. He furthermore explained that HIV can become resistant to ARVs and that the likelihood of resistance varies for each ARV.
“Resistance to TDF is rare and resistance to FTC helps TDF work better. Using two drugs reduces the risk of resistance,” he said.
Adding on to what Mutanhaurwa said, Dr Cosmos Ezekiel from Botswana Harvard Partnership (BHP) for HIV Research and Education, said that Truvada disturbs the movement of HIV/AIDS in a body. This drug, which he said has good side effects profile, has been found to be quite safer than any other drugs.
“Taken once a day, this drug lasts in your body for 36 hours. To infect a person, HIV first starts by multiplying in a person’s body. This drug then stops the multiplication of those cells,” Ezekiel said. “When you have a war, you have to use every weapon to fight your enemy. When people use condoms properly, we are rest assured that they would not get infected.”
Turning to updates on the progress of research at BHP, Ezekiel gave two presentations, one on HIV/AIDS Vaccines and Genital Herpes Suppression. He stated that the new focus is now therapeutic HIV vaccine, which may not prevent HIV infection but may reduce HIV levels in the body.
“It may also delay the need to start ARV drugs, and reduce the chance of transmitting the virus,” he added.
An effective vaccine against HIV, Ekezie said, remains an important goal.
Challenges faced are due to lack of antecedent complexity of the virus, incomplete understanding of the immune response to the virus and cost. He pointed out that many candidate vaccines are at different levels of clinical trial.
“What is more important is that therapeutic vaccines that boost T-cells activities look promising.”
Though vaccines may not prevent HIV infection, he said they may prolong disease free period and reduce infectivity. If successful, he said that it would only form part of the preventive technology arsenal.
“Avoiding HIV acquisition is the only potent strategy for now.”
One of the participants urged: “Let us face our responsibilities and not fight only with words but also with actions.” He encouraged fellow members, most of whom were from support groups, to go and share the information with their families. Participants were urged to share information and sensitise others.
The participants thanked BONASO for hosting the workshop, showing that they are, indeed coordinating the civil society response. However, they also requested that BONASO also go to rural areas to sensitise the participants on the crucial information.