Kenya has joined ongoing clinical trials on injectable antiretrovirals (ARVs), with people living with HIV able to access the drugs at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Nairobi last week.
Besides Aga Khan, other hospitals in the country are also spearheading the trials, which are also ongoing in Uganda and South Africa.
Prof Reena Shah, an infectious disease expert at the hospital, said the clinical trials will see patients injected with cabotegravir (CAB) and rilpivirine (RPV) once every two months to maintain their HIV viral load suppression.
The treatment is only suitable for those who have already achieved undetectable levels of the virus in their blood while taking tablets.
“These injected medicines have worked well in previous studies done in the USA, Europe and South Africa, but have not yet been evaluated in the rest of Africa,” said Prof Shah, who is leading the study.
The long-acting injections are thought to improve the success of HIV treatment because patients no longer have to deal with the risk of forgetting to swallow pills every day.
Currently, most HIV drug regimens consist of three different drugs that need to be taken orally daily.
The study is being coordinated at the Joint Clinical Research Centre in Kampala where 512 participants with stable virus levels have enrolled.
The participants will be given an option of starting with the oral forms of RPV and CAB to see if they can tolerate them, or to go straight to injections. After starting and stabilising on injections, they will return for repeat injections every two months for the next 24 months.
Participants’ viral loads will be monitored after every six months to determine if they are responding to treatment. In addition, they will also be monitored for side effects to ensure the drugs are safe.
The study further aims to determine whether switching from taking daily antiretroviral pills to injections will reduce the effectiveness of the drugs.
According to Prof Shah, “the successful treatment of HIV leads to control of viral multiplication through intake of drugs, but the way someone takes their drugs may depend on several factors that include the number of drugs taken, the ease of swallowing them, the number of times they are taken, their taste, as well as associated side effects, among other factors.”
A similar trial is expected to start in children later this year.