Vietnam has started trialling HIV prevention pills at several clinics across HCM City to assess the success of the drug and decide whether or not it should be included in the national HIV prevention program.
Nguyen Hoang Long, head of the Vietnam Administration of HIV/AIDS Control at the health ministry, said pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is available at medical centers in Districts 1, 8, 11 and Thu Duc, as well as several private clinics in the city.
PrEP is the use of antiretroviral medicine in the form of a daily pill to prevent people from contracting HIV. The World Health Organization in 2015 recommended PrEP as an additional prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV exposure, such as those who have a sexual partner with HIV.
The pill can reduce the infection risk by 92 percent, Long said in an interview with Tieng Chuong, the National Committee for AIDS, Drugs and Prostitution Prevention and Control’s website.
He said it can protect users from sexual transmission after seven days and transmission through blood after 21 days.
A study will assess the effects of the drug on around 1,200 patients in Ho Chi Minh City before the health ministry makes a decision about a possible extension, he said.
“If the trial succeeds, we will put it into the national programs for HIV/AIDS treatment and control,” he said.
Vietnam had more than 215,600 people with HIV as of November last year, according to figures from the health ministry.
Long said as PrEP is a preventive method and cannot be insured, the government will have to find sponsors to expand the program, especially to poor and remote areas.
The U.S. was the first country to approve the use of PrEP for men who have sex with men and other key affected populations in 2012. Canada, Kenya, Peru and South Africa are also among the countries that already offer PrEP, which however has been rejected by health authorities in the U.K. despite convincing trials.
Awareness of PrEP in Asia-Pacific is still low and there have only been a few clinical trials and implementation studies in Thailand and Australia.
Experts said the method does not prevent other sexually transmitted infections and is not a contraceptive, so it should be integrated with other sexual and reproductive health services, including the supply of condoms.