Researchers Assessing Whether Pregnant Women Can Use HIV Preventing Injections

HIV researchers based at the Uganda Virus Research Institute/ International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (UVRI/IAVI) have embarked on assessing whether two HIV injection drugs can help prevent HIV among pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. The trial drugs are cabotegravir, which is used once every two months, and lenacapavir a six-monthly injection.

According to Dr. Brenda Apio Oketch, one of the researchers, the cabotegravir study started in 2018 in Uganda where they were initially giving participants the oral drug Truvada and the injection to compare efficacy in preventing infection.

She says they were also offering contraceptives to participants because they were initially unsure of what effect the medicine can have on an unborn baby but now, Oketch explains that they have resolved to also inject nursing mothers. 

Until recently, scientists have been avoiding involving pregnant women in medical studies under the justification of protecting them and their unborn babies from any harm that may arise but Oketch says the women they are involved in the study have chosen to take part and that their site is not the only one doing this study as other HIV research entities such as Baylor Uganda and MUJHU are gathering the same data.

Guaranteeing the safety of these women, Oketch says cabotegravir has particularly been confirmed safe as a Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) option globally since the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended its use globally early this year.

In guidelines issued in July, WHO pledged to support countries as they plan to introduce the injection as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention. However, so far, in many countries, this injection is only being used in study settings.

All injection studies taking place in Uganda are involving adolescent and young women, who are not just of reproductive age but also are the worst hit by HIV in Uganda as they account for the highest number of new infections. Also, HIV prevalence is higher among women at 7.2% than among men at 4.3%.

Dr. Ali Setaala who heads Community Studies Department at UVRI/IAVI program says the lenacapavir study is promising and gives them hope that some of the new infections among young women will reduce when it is finally approved.

He says that they are currently still recruiting women aged sixteen to twenty-five for the study that will last five years. Once approved, women will only need to be injected twice a year.

Scroll to top