THE World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended long-acting cabotegravir for the prevention of HIV.
In a new guideline issued on Thursday, the agency said the drug was part of a comprehensive approach to preventing the virus.
WHO advised countries to use the injectable drug, shortened as CAB-LA, as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV.
According to the agency, CAB-LA is a safe and highly effective prevention option for people at substantial risk of HIV infection.
CAB-LA is an intramuscular injectable, long-acting form of PrEP with the first two injections, administered four weeks apart, followed by an injection every eight weeks.
CAB-LA was shown to be safe and highly effective among cisgender women, cisgender men who have sex with men, and transgender women who have sex with men in two randomized controlled trials, HPTN 083 and HPTN 084, said the WHO.
But the drug is currently unavailable outside its study area, said the Director of WHO’s Global HIV, Hepatitis and Sexually Transmitted Infections Programmes, Meg Doherty, a doctor.
“We hope these new guidelines will help accelerate country efforts to start to plan and deliver CAB-LA alongside other HIV prevention options, including oral PrEP and the dapivirine vaginal ring.”
The guidelines released ahead of the 24th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2022) will support countries as they plan for CAB-LA introduction as part of a comprehensive approach to HIV prevention and will facilitate urgently needed operational research, WHO noted.
“The guidelines are launched at a critical moment, as HIV prevention efforts have stalled with 1.5 million new HIV infections in 2021 – the same as 2020.
“There were 4,000 new infections every day in 2021, with key populations (sex workers, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, people in prisons and transgender people) and their sexual partners accounting for 70 per cent of HIV infections globally.”
The agency added that its studies showed that the use of CAB-LA resulted in a 79 per cent relative reduction in HIV risk compared with oral PrEP, where adherence to taking daily oral medication was often a challenge.
The WHO has launched a coalition to accelerate global access to the drug.
“Convened by WHO, Unitaid, UNAIDS and The Global Fund, the coalition will identify market interventions needed to advance near- and long-term access to CAB-LA, establish financing and procurement for the drug, provide implementation support to global HIV prevention programmes and issue policy guidance, among other activities.”
Meanwhile, the global response to HIV has faltered and stalled, with 1.5 million new infections occurring in 2021 – more than one million more than the global targets.
Newly released figures, the WHO said, showed that 650,000 people died from HIV-related causes while the number of people on HIV treatment grew more slowly in 2021 than in over a decade.
The organization made the disclosure on Wednesday, the eve of the 24th International AIDS Conference taking place in Montreal, Canada, virtually.
It called for urgent action against the disease among nations and decried that the rate of new infections and HIV-related deaths was unacceptable and preventable.
“While we have all of the tools that we need to end AIDS, there are 10 million people who have not yet started treatment, and the gap in HIV treatment coverage between children and adults is increasing rather than narrowing.”